Highlands Hosts Virtual Northeastern New Mexico Science Fair for Youth

March 30, 2021

photo of Kelly Trujillo

Kelly Trujillo

Las Vegas, N.M. – New Mexico Highlands University hosted a virtual Northeastern New Mexico Science Fair March 27, giving high school and middle school students the opportunity to present their projects despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Highlands has sponsored the Northeastern New Mexico Science Fair since 1958. This year, 83 students represented eight counties. Forty-three volunteers and judges worked at the event.

“We were not about to let COVID-19 stop us from continuing the long science fair tradition at Highlands this year and the virtual event was a great success,” said Kelly Trujillo, the Highlands ARMAS director who also directs the science fair. “Students researched everything from guitar amplifiers and simulated crocodiles to climate change and organic filter devices. We had 32 projects that will move on to the state competition on April 17, representing 12 schools from our region.”

Students represented these counties at the science fair: Guadalupe, Harding, Los Alamos, Quay, Rio Arriba, San Miguel, Santa Fe and Taos.

Trujillo said that this year due to COVID-19, students and teachers overcame tremendous challenges to participate in the science fair.

“A virtual classroom is not necessarily compatible with the type of hands-on learning students need to grasp science effectively. This means that teachers had to be very creative, and students had to figure out how to do a science project from home. These students showed tremendous resilience and ought to be recognized for their efforts,” Trujillo said.

ARMAS stands for the Achieving in Research Math and Science center at Highlands. For a number of years, ARMAS has sponsored the Northeastern New Mexico Science Fair at Highlands.

“Online presentations and interviews replaced the physical displays and face-to-face interviews. Scores of judges volunteered all day on Saturday, March 27, in front of computer monitors to give students and opportunity to present their work, and to give them the feedback and encouragement they needed to continue down the path of inquiry-based learning,” Trujillo said.

The head judge for the Northeastern New Mexico Science Fair was Juergen Eckert for the fourth consecutive year. He is a part-time research professor in chemistry at Texas Tech University and is a guest scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He earned his Ph.D. in mechanical science from Princeton University.

“The student’s projects continue to improve in caliber each year,” Eckert said. “The amount of scientific work put into the projects was impressive. The creativity in designing and implementing the projects was exceptionally high.”

Trujillo said that funds from Highlands University, the ARMAS STEMfast grant, and the Highlands University Alumni Association helped make the Northeastern Regional Science Fair possible this year.

“We’re hoping we can return to an in-person science fair format in 2022, despite the success of the virtual fair,” Trujillo said.