Science fairs a solid investment in Hawaii’s students
The sponsor of the annual fairs has asked the Legislature for a grant to keep them going.
A $500,000 grant to help a private, nonprofit organization continue to put on annual science fairs in which thousands of Hawaii school children participate would be money well spent.
With current emphasis on science and math education, the relatively small amount would be a sound investment in stimulating interest among students as they apply book-learning to real-world challenges.
The state Legislature should approve the grant and find a way to direct the funds to the Hawaii Academy of Science without bureaucratic encumbrance.
The academy has sponsored and managed the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair since 1958 and will stage its 50th next month. Through the years, students from private and public schools have entered projects that have dazzled science, industry and business experts with their ingenuity.
Last year's fair winner used complex mathematics to analyze the array of stars and galaxies for clues to the universe's structure, while the runner-up devised computer algorithms to help scan microscopic photos of human tissue for cancer cells that might be missed by more conventional methods. Back in 1981, the winner worked on developing ethanol from Waialua Sugar Mill waste, a project that anticipated today's search for renewable fuels.
More important, the fair inspires students to look for careers in the sciences and in technology that present greater opportunities for individual success and for developing related industries in the state.
Lawmakers have previously allocated about $100,000 a year for the academy, which pays for salaries for two staff members, a student assistant and rental for the Blaisdell Center exhibition hall where fairs are staged. Because of legal requirements, the funds were assigned through the Department of Education, but a bureaucratic process tied to a new budget formula diverted the money.
The academy is seeking a new grant, which officials hope will go through the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. It will use the two-year allocation to build a permanent endowment fund to help pay for student awards, scholarships, travel to compete in state and national fairs and to expand teacher education and buy equipment.
The academy also solicits money from local companies, business groups and private donors who academy officials say have been generous, recognizing the widespread benefits of the fairs. The state should be no less generous to the more than 6,000 students who take part in the program.