37th Annual Calaveras County Virtual Science Fair

Calaveras County Science Fair selects winners to receive Albert R. Michelson Science Prize from STEM Advisory Council

By Brett Bunge, Content Writer

The Small Schools Districts’ Association (SSDA) is proud to announce that four science projects in the 2022 Calaveras County Science Fair were each selected to receive a cash prize of $250 provided by the local STEM Advisory Council.

The Science Fair is an annual student competition in Calaveras County, run and coordinated by the Calaveras County Office of Education (CCOE). 2022 marks the first year that a cash prize was offered to the winners, an idea conceived by the STEM Advisory Council. The award was named after and inspired by Albert Michelson, the first American scientist to be awarded the Nobel Prize, Michelson lived in Murphys as a child, and his name was adopted by Albert R. Michelson Elementary school in Murphys in his honor. The winners were all students at various small schools throughout the county, ranging in level from 4th to 12th grade.

“The STEM Advisory Council was formed in the Fall of 2021 with the assistance of Calaveras County Supervisor Merita Callaway and Calaveras Superintendent of Schools Scott Nanik, in order to boost engagement in the field,” explained Council member, Dr. Doug Modlin, in a phone interview. “We wanted to get more students involved in science and engineering, and we thought that offering a cash prize would provide an attractive incentive.”

The Council is comprised of seven members, including scientists and engineers from various fields, an elementary school science teacher, and a junior college instructional support specialist in Mathematics.  Their expertise ranges from rocket science to archaeology, to engineering and applied behavioral science. Doug Modlin, John Adams, Paul Marshal, Shonna Lewis, Melissa Anisko, Julia Costello, and Sunil Mehrotra sit on the Council. Additionally, CCOE Coordinator of Communications and Student Events Debbie Strand attends every Council meeting as an extension of CCOE.

The projects in each category were judged on a 100-point-based rubric, with any projects receiving 85 points or higher being eligible to go to the California State Fair later this year. The winners were as follows:

  1. Tobias Siegler, 7th grader at Christian Family Learning Center
    1. Life Sciences, “Microorganisms to the Extreme”

  2. Elliot Hungerford and Leighton Quilici, 7th graders at Avery Middle School
    1. Physical Science & Engineering, “Space Race”
  3. Josephine Rael, 5th grader at Albert Michelson Elementary
    1. Behavioral & Cognitive Science Project, “Memory: Color vs. Black and White”

  4. Liam Hungerford, 4th grader at Hazel Fischer Elementary
    1. Math & Computer Science, “Cracking the Code”

Each project consisted of a visual aid, and a written presentation along with the students' created videos for each one. The winners presented their projects to the Council at a virtual award ceremony hosted via Google Meet on March 16, 2022.

The Council partnered with several donors—both locally and across the state—to raise the money for the prize. These donors (who were invited to the virtual award ceremony) included Doug Modlin, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (which matched Doug Modlin’s donation through their HOME employee giving program), John Adams, Sunil Mehrotra, Julia Costello, Paul Marshall, Weber, Ghio & Assoc., Bert Lucas, Marc & Sue Landgraf, and Tish Chung.

The Council is looking towards the future as they continue to encourage the next generation of students to pursue careers in the STEM fields. The Advisory Council is currently exploring the idea of a monthly seminar related to STEM topics. “Just because we’re a small county doesn’t mean we don’t have the sciences,” stated Debbie Strand. The SSDA is proud to help honor the Calaveras County student winners.