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Students Demonstrate Research Skills at Fourth Annual Diversity Conference

March 1996

Since 1981, Dade County, Florida, has operated an Artificial Reef Program to increase marine habitats for fish and other organisms.

Maria Lacayo and five other 9th-graders at Miami Senior High School operated their own artificial reef program for a month to learn which organisms initially occupy an artificial (concrete) surface and learn how they attach themselves.

Lacayo, whose group won an award, was one of more than 400 student presenters at the 1995 National Conference on Diversity in the Scientific and Technological Workforce, sponsored by NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR). Attendance topped 2,400 and included representatives from national science and technology associations, science, mathematics and engineering professionals from the public and private sectors, science educators, and officials from industry and government.

The weekend of presentations showcased scientific talent among African American, Hispanic, and Native American students ranging from seventh graders to graduate students. Presenters were chosen from among students in EHR's programs to increase participation of underrepresented minorities in science careers. More than 500,000 students are currently involved.

The NSF research directorates also sponsored student presenters from their funded research projects. "These programs are designed to increase the nation's competitiveness by ensuring that all its citizens are active participants in a science, engineering, and mathematics workforce," says EHR Assistant Director Luther Williams. "Not all students have an equal opportunity to compete for degrees in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology; however, these programs have been remarkably successful in increasing the number of underrepresented minorities."

Within each program, students exhibit a broad range of interests. Lacayo's group was one of many focused on environmental science. Other groups studied molecular biology ("Three-dimensional Liquid Crystalline Polymers of Polybenzobisoxazole and Polybenzobisthiazole"); and agronomy ("Water Retention in Till and No-Till Farming").

The conference provides an opportunity to demonstrate what individuals and teams of students can do with appropriate resources and support, says Conference Coordinator Elmima Johnson. "Given the proper training and exposure, all children can learn and appreciate science."

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