The Davis Branch of Montgomery County Public Libraries in Bethesda is offering free brainstorming sessions with a credentialed scientist to help middle and high school students prepare for this year’s Montgomery County Science Fair.
Students can register for a private 30-minute session with retired chemistry professor Miguel Mitchell by visiting the library’s website. Sessions will be available during a two-hour period on Saturdays throughout January.
MCPL librarian Susan Smith spearheaded the initiative with Mitchell to encourage greater and more diverse science fair participation.
“I don’t think teens realize it, but some college admissions people will tell you participating in a science fair is more important than your SAT scores because it shows independent thinking and initiative,” she said. “It really is a very good thing to do if you’re interested in going into science.”
The Davis Library is in what Smith describes as a highly competitive area of the county, nestled between Walt Whitman, Walter Johnson and Winston Churchill high schools — “we’ve got some pretty serious teens here,” she joked. She said she hopes the initiative will spark student interest in exploring other local library services.
Trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mitchell taught chemistry at Salisbury University over 12 years. He currently works as a science editor for the American Institutes for Research, one of the world’s largest hubs of social science research. In past years, he’s served as a science fair judge at both the local and state levels.
Mitchell is passionate about exposing students to science in fresh and engaging ways. While many students tend to think of science as technical and utilitarian, he said the sciences are just as much about enriching the soul and exploring the universe. Fusing elements of the arts into science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, can lead to a wealth of excitement, he said.
“My goal is to inspire students to enjoy science and develop a love for it,” he said. “The idea of wondering about the universe and our place in it, and wanting to really know how things really work — that should matter to us.”
He said he hopes students who choose to spend a Saturday session with him come away feeling empowered in knowing that their ideas have worth.
Registration for the science fair is open through Feb. 1. There are separate registration categories for middle and high school students. Smith said the county hasn’t picked a venue yet for the fair, but it will take place March 24 to 26, 2023.
Science Montgomery’s fair is recognized by Society for Science, a national nonprofit known for expanding access to STEM education via competitions, magazines, outreach and more. The top 10% of student participants in Science Montgomery’s fair will be invited by Society for Science to present their project at the national level.
In the meantime, students can register for a session with Mitchell on the Davis Library website using their email address. Smith said if the service garners a reasonable turnout, MCPL and Mitchell hope to continue offering sessions into February.