Seventeen of the 97 regional finalists in the annual Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology were mentored by faculty at Stony Brook University, according to a university news release.
The competition is touted as the premier research competition for high school students in the nation, according to the Siemens Foundation. High school students prepare and submit original research, either individually or in teams, in the fields of math, science and technology, and compete for scholarship awards topping out at $100,000.
Of the 17 finalists who had Stony Brook mentors, 11 of them participated in the Garcia Center for Polymers at Engineered Interfaces Program research program, which is directed by Miriam Rafailovich, Ph.D.
But Rafailovich said that although it is nice to hear about students succeeding,“Science is not a competition.”
Rafailovich, who has mentored regional finalists for a decade, is not focused on competitions and awards. Instead, Rafailovich mentors high school students every year because “it’s a lot of fun to work with high school students.”
“They’re fearless,” Rafailovich said, and are really eager to jump into research. Whether or not the experiment works does not matter to a high school student, Rafailovich said. They are more concerned with the experience and having fun.
Adriana Pinkas-Sarafova, Ph.D., agreed with Rafailovich but also said the Siemens Competition is valuable because it shows an appreciation for the students who participate. This past year was Pinkas-Sarafova’s first year mentoring high school students with the Garcia program. She said the Siemens Competition is a big motivation, but she is more concerned with challenging her students.
The journey is more exciting than the end result, Pinkas-Sarafova said. More than anything, however, Pinkas-Sarafova stressed the importance of group work.
“I think it’s important to teach them to work in groups because science has reached a level where every study is much more complicated than before and requires interdisciplinary action,” she said. Especially for the students who see a career in science, “teaching them to collaborate is important for their future,” she said.
Rafailovich does not use the competition as a measure of success for her mentees, saying the winners are “really random.” Instead, every year with the Garcia program, Rafailovich focuses on cultivating a love and appreciation for science.
“The majority of our students go into some kind of business related application,” she said. “We’re really proud that the people who end up being decision makers in companies grew up with an appreciation for research.”
For the students who may not enter into a STEM major for college, or into a scientific career, Pinkas-Sarafova said, there is “no doubt at some moment they will be in connection with science” in the future. Like Rafailovich, Pinkas-Sarafova stressed the importance of understanding science.
Both professors said that the goal is to add or give some advancement to the scientific community.
In the coming weeks, regional finalists will present their research to panels across the six distinct regions in the United States. From there, national finalists will be selected to present their work at George Washington University in December.
However, Rafailovich said that the winners of the Siemens Competition overall do not really matter because “the competition is with yourself.”