South Hosts Virtual Scholarship Competitions
Posted on April 1, 2020
With social distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention due to the coronavirus health crisis, the Alabama Academy of Science canceled its traditional competition and met virtually for the Alabama Junior Academy of Science Paper Reading and Gorgas Scholarship competitions. This was done for the first time with the support of Zoom technology through the University of South Alabama.
Dr. Jack Shelley-Tremblay, professor and chair of the department of psychology at USA and the AAS associate executive director and webmaster, hosted the event. Providing technical solutions, Shelley-Tremblay helped the 25 middle and high school students and 25 judges when they needed help with the teleconference. The students were judged by a panel consisting of department heads, deans and professors from USA and seven other colleges, universities and industries across Alabama.
“It was really gratifying to be the wizard behind the curtain,” Shelley-Tremblay said. “After doing my research, I gave the students and judges an overview of how to present and use the Zoom platform. The students and judges went from never signing on before to being comfortable with the platform. I also was able to integrate dial-in and computer-based options.”
The Gorgas Scholarship Program is affiliated with the Alabama Power Foundation and the Alabama Academy of Science. The Gorgas competition strives to promote interest in science and to aid in the education of promising students. Dr. Ellen Buckner, retired USA nursing professor, now a professor at Samford University, is one of two organizers of the AAS annual event. Buckner was a Gorgas finalist back in 1968.
“Overwhelmingly, the students were happy we did not cancel the competition,” she said. ”And they enjoyed competing virtually. The representatives of the local, state and national science fairs had to postpone their competitions. The students usually enter multiple competitions for scholarships. Overall, they were happy to be able to participate and showcase their scientific work.”
To qualify for a scholarship, high school student participants must submit a scientific paper describing original research or a project. The students can conduct scientific work in conjunction with a summer science program or year-round supervised work, but many of them work with mentors on projects developed at home or school.
The Gorgas Competition winner of the tuition grant of $4,000 is Abhinav Gullapalli of Hoover High School and the first-place winner of the Alabama Junior Academy Science Competition is Catherine Kung of Indian Springs School in Pelham, Ala. One of the student finalists, senior Addison Allred from Murphy High School in Mobile, was excited the competition wasn’t canceled, although she had second thoughts about using new technology.
“This was different for me, because I had never had a virtual experience before,” Allred explained. “But I was happy the event was not canceled. This was a very cool and advanced experience. I was nervous at first, but the help we received made it easier for us to participate and compete.”
Gorgas Scholars compete for more than $10,000 in scholarships, and USA is one of several Alabama colleges and universities that offers additional scholarships for high school seniors.
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