Connor Eccleston couldn't get enough of Bill Nye the Science Guy when he was little -- and now it is paying dividends for the Syracuse Junior High School seventh-grader.
He and other students from Davis and Weber county schools just returned from an international science fair in Houston, called International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering, and Environment) Project Olympiad, where they represented the state well.
Students from Weber High, Syracuse High and Syracuse Junior High all earned third-place or higher awards with cash prizes or scholarships attached.
Jodi Lunt, a science adviser for Davis School District, found out about the international competition when her daughter Alexa competed last year.
"I was there as a mom but scoped it out for my Davis students as well," Lunt said. The Davis district has been working to improve its science programs, and Lunt thought this was a good way to do that. Students have to apply to be accepted into the fair, so she went to work getting students to apply.
Laurie Eccleston loved the opportunity to attend the fair with her son.
"It was a real eye-opening experience," she said. She was amazed by the number of students from not only 45 states, but from 60 other countries as well.
"It kind of gives you hope for the future," Eccleston said. She was amazed by how kind and knowledgeable students were.
Weber High School teacher Lareen Radle has had students applying for and going to international fairs for quite some time. She has found the opportunities and experience to be very rewarding. She has four students getting ready to head to San Jose, Calif., this weekend for a prestigious international high school fair, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
The four students were putting finishing touches on their boards Wednesday afternoon, redesigning them for the fair this weekend. The high school students have been working on the same projects for up to three years.
"You have to do different things for different fairs, you know, highlight different things," Alexa Lunt said of her project. She is a junior and figures she has earned up to $300,000 in scholarships from winning various science fairs. She and her peers laugh when they talk about the money they have accumulated for school. The prize money consists of scholarships at different schools across the United States, but it is a start for many students.
Alexa would like to attend Westminster College in Salt Lake City, where she already has netted $160,000 in scholarship money from her science competitions.
Only 12 students from the state were selected to go the I-SEF competition, five of whom are from Weber High School. Radle is proud of her students, but knows it is because of their drive and ambition that they are where they are.
"I laugh at them, because they will come to class and say they pulled an all-nighter working on their projects," Radle said.
Hearing that, junior Kassandra Wilson smiled and said, "Yep, I'll be pulling an all-nighter this weekend getting ready to go."
"It is kind of geeky that we spend all weekend working on our projects sometimes, but it is worth it," Alexa said with a smile. All the students enjoy talking with the judges at the competitions, where they admit they learn new things but also like to demonstrate their knowledge.
"I get excited to defend my project," Alexa said of judgment time.
Senior Christie Hewlett admits she gets a little nervous, but said the nervousness helps her to do better. She also likes working with her fellow Weber High students on their projects.
"I like the competitiveness and to see how good each other's projects are," Hewlett said.
All the students plan to study sciences beyond high school. Students get money from grants and organizations to help pay for travel to the fairs, but schools seek funds to get students on their way, Radle said. She said the scholarship opportunities and the life skills that come from the fairs are too great to pass up. To donate to help students attend the fairs, call Weber High School at (801) 476-3700.