High school science fair: Ethnicity trends in student participation and experience

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In this paper, we report ethnicity trends in student participation and experience in high school science and engineering fair (SEFs). SEF participation showed significant ethnic diversity. For survey students, the approximate distribution was Asian-32%; Black-11%; Hispanic-20%; White-33%; Other-3%. Comparing the SEF level at which students competed from school to district to region to state levels, we observed that black students made up only 4.5% of the students who participated in SEF beyond the school level, whereas students from other ethnic groups were more equally represented at all levels. The lower percentage of Black students resulted from a combination of lower overall participation in SEF and lower percentage of those students who did participate to advance to SEFs beyond the school level. Students who advanced to SEFs beyond the school level frequently received help from scientists, coaching for the interview, and were not required to participate in SEF. Black students received the least help from scientists, were least likely to receive coaching for the interview, and were most likely to be required to participate in SEF. They also were most likely to receive no help from parents, teachers, or scientists. Asian and Hispanic students (63.8% and 56.8%) indicated a greater interest in careers in science and engineering (S&E) compared to Black and White students (43.7% & 50.7%). In addition to career interest, the most important experiences that correlated with students who indicated that SEF increased their interests in S&E were getting help from the internet, books and magazines; getting help fine tuning the report; and overcoming obstacles by doing more background research, making a timeline, and perseverance. Black students did not report a positive effect of any of these strategies but experienced time pressure as more of an obstacle than did other students. Our findings identify a wide range of student experiences associated with positive SEF outcomes that could be enhanced for all students but especially Black students. More involvement of scientists in helping students who participate in SEFs would be particularly valuable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0264861
JournalPloS one
Issue number3 March
StatePublished - Mar 2022

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