A little state help would go a long way toward helping needy science students

While we're used to stories about government spending millions, billions, and now trillions, this story is about how just a little more state money could make a big difference in rural Ohio schools like South Point High School.

You see, it's been seven years since South Point biology teacher Jayshree Shah had any students able to present science projects at the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (see here), the world's top science and engineering fair. It's not because science students at the Lawrence County school, 130 miles south of Columbus, are not qualified to rub elbows with the world's high-school scientific elite.

There is simply no money for students, no matter how worthy, to attend such events. Shah said state funds once helped send top science students from South Point and other Ohio high schools to the Intel fair but that money dried up several years ago. Under the fair's rules, students are not allowed to pay their own way so travel expenses must come from donors, and there's little money for that in South Point.

"We don't have the economic base here. There's no industry. In southern Ohio the largest employer is Wal-Mart," said Shah.

The Ohio Academy of Science (see here) has noticed the problem. Ohio sent 20 high school students to the Intel fair in Reno, Nev., but students in 42 of Ohio's 88 counties had no chance, according to the academy. The academy oversees science fairs throughout the state, including the recent annual state science fair in Columbus.

Even fewer students may attend next year's Intel fair unless new funds are found.

The academy wants lawmakers to authorize $100,000 to reopen participation to a broader range of Ohio schools and double the number of students attending the event in 2010.

"We can readily identify dozens of STEM students in these counties who meet basic qualifications to attend the Intel ISEF," said Lynn Elfner, the academy's chief executive officer. "None of the tens of millions of STEM education dollars being spent in Ohio has provided opportunities for these best and brightest' students."

Meanwhile, Shah struggles to help provide the most opportunity for her students. She is forging ties with scientists at nearby Marshall University, across the Ohio River in Huntington, W.Va. But, while that connection can help widen horizons for her students, it won't help them get to Intel next year.

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