We often hear about the accomplishments of Armenian high school students at various science Olympiads. These events primarily test students’ theoretical knowledge and problem solving skills in an exam setting. Applied sciences in Armenian schools, on the other hand, have seemingly not received the same level of attention and, often times, have been neglected. Yet, it is through applied sciences that almost all tangible technological impact on society is made, since scientific theory is turned into practical and usable products and services. Therefore, introducing school students to the scientific method, i.e., the way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments, as early as possible in their lives, is a critical step in ensuring that society will have a healthy pipeline of world-class applied scientists and engineers. Just as young athletes are trained and nurtured through their school years, children with curiosity about science and the world around them, should also receive the same attention.
Science fairs at school level aim at planting seeds of applied science and the scientific method among students. The importance of participating in a science fair comes in the process of forming ideas, testing hypotheses, and being able to clearly articulate results. Adding to the excitement are the trophies and public recognition, which often propel students’ scientific inquiries.
World’s largest and most prestigious science competition for high school students is Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF). Each May, approximately 1,700 students from over 75 countries arrive in the U.S. to showcase their talents on an international stage, where doctoral level scientists review and judge their work. Students compete for scholarships, tuition grants, internships, scientific field trips and the grand prizes, including one $75,000 and two $50,000 college scholarships. All prizes together amount to over $4 million. Seven ISEF alumni have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.
Sadly, Armenia has never participated in the Intel ISEF, while other post-Soviet states, including Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, have had Intel ISEF affiliated fairs for many years. Two years ago, after discovering that Armenia did not have any Intel ISEF affiliated science fairs and was missing out on such an important opportunity to promote scientific achievements of its young generation, a group of Boston-based STEM education enthusiasts, led by Dr. Ara Stepanyan, decided to introduce science fairs in Armenia. They founded Armenian National Science and Innovation Competition (ANSIC) initiative with the goal to organize the first national science fair for high school students in Armenia and represent the country at the Intel ISEF.
ANSIC started reaching out to individual schools in Armenia. However, the initiative had a turning point after a meeting between ANSIC’s Ara Stepanyan and Hovhannes Ghazarian of Dasaran in Boston in 2015. Dasaran is a unique educational platform which connects over 1,495 schools in Armenia and Artsakh with a user community of more than 1 million students, teachers, and parents. ANSIC organizers realized that Dasaran was the perfect platform to engage not just a few schools but all schools in Armenia and Artsakh. This was the beginning of the collaboration between ANSIC and Dasaran.
Furthermore, ANSIC has partnered with the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair (MSSEF) to invite representatives from Dasaran and Ministry of Education of Armenia to Boston, and to organize teacher and science fair administration training in Armenia. As the next step, the ANSIC team, including Dasaran’s Suren Aloyan and Hovhannes Ghazaryan, and Dr. Ara Stepanyan and Dr. Ara Nazarian, will be attending the 67th Annual MSSEF which will be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on May 6-7, and the 2016 Intel ISEF which will be held in in Phoenix, Arizona on May 8-13. The purpose of the visits will be to observe these prestigious science fairs and to learn about their management and administration in order to introduce science fairs and promote project-based science teaching in Armenia.
Mr. Suren Aloyan and Mr. Hovhannes Ghazaryan are co-founders of Dasaran. The portal serves not only as a way to connect students, parents, and teachers and to disseminate educational materials but also as an online management tool for implementing the national education policies and promoting transparency and accountability in schools via the use of e-diaries and e-gradebooks. Mr. Aloyan serves also as the CEO of Dasaran, holds a degree in business management and has dedicated over ten years of his professional life to improving IT conditions in Armenian schools. Mr. Ghazaryan is a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School of Government and has over ten years of experiences in the public sector. Dr. Ara Stepanyan is an economist and management consultant based in Boston, and serves as the founding director of ANSIC. Dr. Ara Nazarian is a professor at Harvard Medical School and an ANSIC board member, and has served as a MSSEF judge for many years.
Source: Armenian Weekly Mid-West