Tahlequah Daily Press

January 30, 2014

What’s the bright idea

Young Cherokee citizens strut their intellectual stuff at science fair

Special Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Bright ideas and inquiring minds were showcased Saturday at the Cherokee Nation Science and Engineering Fair, and Google staffers were on hand to judge the participants.

Exhibited in the Herb Rozell Ballroom at Northeastern State University, 29 displays from middle and high school students ranged from bovines to bubble gum. Prizes tallied thousands of dollars in scholarships and tuition waivers, along with medals, traditional pottery and a Google Chromebook.

Judges came from many area higher education institutions, including NSU, The University of Oklahoma, Rogers State University and Oklahoma State University.

Mike Looton, operations manager for the Mayes County Google Data Center, was impressed with the quality and amount of work.

“Kids get exposed to scientific methods, which they can use to solve problems – skills that are valuable throughout their lives,” Looton said.

The most impressive display, to Looton, focused on organic matter and diatoms.

“They actually looked at sediment in local lakes and the concentration of diatoms and organic matter and compared it to how forested the lakes are,” Looton said. “The less forested the lakes were, the more sediment they had, and the more diatoms. More sediment is bad for fish and the overall health of the lakes.”

On the middle school side, Looton liked a display about NBA statistics.

“It showed the field goal percentage correlates to wins more than any other percentage,” said Looton. “It’s an impressive and interesting application of data and statistics to solve a problem or answer a hypothesis.”

To better explain a traditional native story, Cherokee Immersion sixth-grade student Sinibele Rhodes made an automaton. She’s always been interested in engineering and plans to pursue a career in the field. She is also a Little Miss Cherokee ambassador.

“Automatons can bring Cherokee stories to life better than a computer. I like to tell Cherokee stories, and kids don’t always get the stories,” Sinibele said.

Speaking to judges is a bit nerve-wracking for her.

“But at the same time, I talk to them like they’re normal people, not like they’re about to decide if you get an award,” Sinibele said. “They’re excited about what you’re doing, so it helps you explain your project to them.”

Her mom, Terri Rhodes, is pleased her daughter and son, Onen, a ninth-grader at Sequoyah High School, were participating.

“It keeps them interested in science and on a career path,” Rhodes said. “I’m not a sports mom; I’m a science fair mom.”

Onen received first place in engineering for his “Sands of Time” display.

Event Director Daniel Faddis started the fair, which is open to all Cherokee students, because it’s a great opportunity to develop leadership in younger tribal citizens.

The event also incorporates all aspects of the new state Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program.

“By teaching our students to investigate science using the scientific method, it teaches logic means for problem-solving,” Faddis said.

His favorite displays showed initiative and leadership skills.

“Personally, I like this one on organic matter and diatoms in area lakes, because she reached out to a university and got an internship with them,” Faddis said. “She reached out to resources In the community to do her research.”

Both Looton and Faddis predicted Amber Robert’s organic matter and diatoms display would take best in show.

The Westville High School sophomore did her research and internship at The University of Arkansas with Dr. Byron Winston.

“In the past, I’ve done water quality projects, but this is a different aspect because you can look at the past and predict the future,” Roberts said. “I enjoyed the internship for many reasons, like learning to use new equipment. I used a corer to collect sediment.”