Christopher Columbus Awards: News

News — September 3, 1998 ********

Media & Program contact:  Karen Baker
 Anne Mack
 (412) 281-2345  


Bayer/NSF Award Seeks Middle School Students With Big Ideas

Students Use Science and Technology to Solve Community Problems; Awards Include $25,000 Community Grant and Trip to Epcot

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 3, 1998—The Bayer/NSF Award issued an exciting challenge to the nation's middle school students today, calling on them to develop big ideas to solve community problems.

"Kids often see problems, and solutions, that adults do not," explained Julia Moore of the National Science Foundation, a Bayer/NSF Award sponsor. "The Bayer/NSF Award recognizes that all students have a lot to contribute, and that by working together, they have the power to turn things around."

The Bayer/NSF Award is a dynamic program that challenges students in grades 6-8 to form teams of four and use science and technology to develop an innovative solution to a problem they identify in their community. It is sponsored by the Bayer Corporation, National Science Foundation and Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation with Discover Magazine.

"The Bayer/NSF Award is turning kids on to science and showing them the important connection between science and society," said Sande Deitch, director of the Bayer Corporation's Making Science Make Sense program to support inquiry-based science education and to promote science literacy.

Entries are due January 31, 1999. A panel of judges will select three semifinalists from each of 10 regions. One finalist will then be selected from each region.

For 10 Bayer/NSF Award finalist teams and their coaches, the rewards also include an all-expense paid trip to Epcot at the Walt Disney World Resort, where they will compete for $36,000 in savings bonds and the $25,000 Columbus Foundation Community Grant, seed money to help one team bring its idea to life. The finalist teams also attend the Christopher Columbus Academy, a specially-designed program in which students learn by working alongside scientists, engineers and technical experts at the parks.

Breakthrough Thinking from Everyday Kids

Combining team members' curiosity, creativity and critical thinking skills with input from community leaders and mentors can produce break-through thinking:

  • While community leaders often believe the best solution to concerns about swing set safety is to remove the equipment, last year's first place winners developed an alternative. The simple harness they invented, called "The Back Belt" promises to make the swings substantially safer.
  • Last year's third-place team saw their homeless and transient classmates deprived of educational opportunities – even being held out of school altogether – because of lost school records. It's a problem that affects homeless and transient students nationwide, and an Atlanta team came up with a solution: a clearinghouse and office facilities for parents.
  • With the start of school right around the corner, back pack safety is a big issue for kids and parents. Are packs too heavy? Are kids carrying them properly? Could back packs injure students' backs? Four eighth grade girls found answers to these questions and won second place in the Bayer/NSF Award. They created "Light is Right," an awareness campaign to alert students to the risk of backpack misuse and provide tips on how to avoid related back problems.
New Approaches to Science Education

The Bayer/NSF Award provides students and teachers the opportunity to experience some of the most promising new trends in science education, including inquiry-based, cross-curricular learning, mentoring relationships and a focus on teamwork. "I really like the Bayer/NSF Award process," said teacher Mery Molenaar, coach of a 1998 finalist team from Boulder, Colo. "It mirrors how things work in the real world."

It's an approach that appeals to a broad range of students, including those from groups traditionally less likely to participate in science. Last year, 30% of entrants were minorities; 60% were girls.

"The Bayer/NSF Award is breaking down barriers to science participation," said Aaron Henderson, a member of the Bayer/NSF Award Steering Committee and industry consultant to Southeastern Consortium of Minority Engineers, a national program that helps introduce students, predominantly minorities, to career opportunities in science, engineering and technology. "It is an empowering experience. It builds pride."

Rosalyn Queen, chairperson of the Columbus Foundation, agreed. "This competition is based upon the idea that all children have the potential to succeed and to become community leaders," she said.

The program targets a critical age range in science education; studies indicate that middle school is the point at which U.S. students begin to fall behind their peers around the world in science achievement.

Many teams are school-based and are coached by their teachers, who often incorporate the competition into their lesson plans. Other entries come from extra-curricular groups such as the Girl and Boy Scouts, 4-H Clubs, YMCAs and YWCAs, as well as home-school settings.

Something for Everyone

Entering its third year, the Bayer/NSF Award has attracted thousands of students and hundreds of teachers who have found it to be a highly rewarding experience. "The students on my team have learned life skills that usually take years to develop," said teacher Jo Ella Allen, coach of a 1998 finalist team from Antelope Crossing, Calif.

All middle school students are encouraged to participate. There is no entry fee, and teams often benefit by the participation of students with a variety of talents, perspectives and skills. Students and adults interested in forming a team should call 1-800-291-6020 or visit to receive an application and competition guidelines.