History & Archives
The Regional Science & Engineering Fair Program in Mankato has a rich history involving many participating students, parents, teachers, principals, business and community leaders, judges, faculty from neighboring colleges, Minnesota State administrators, faculty, staff, and students Minnesota State University, Mankato has been hosting the science and engineering fair since 1951!
It has been exciting to see the growth of the fair. Hundreds of volunteers (judges, coordinators, etc.) help with the fair annually. For students in grades 3-6, the regional fair is the climax of their yearlong activities. Grades 6-12 are eligible to continue on to the state fair, and grades 9-12 are eligible to compete in the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair. As of 2012, 6th graders can participate in either the Middle School/Senior High Fair or the Elementary Fair. For many students, the science fair program has been the beginning of a life-long fascination with science or an introduction to a science-related career. For judges and volunteers, the science fair provides an opportunity to mentor students, visit with colleagues in their discipline and renew acquaintances.
The early years of the fair are currently being researched. This task is complicated by the lack of programs in many of the early years, the deaths of key individuals, and the loss of records. If you or your family have information on any of these early years, please contact us. The following narrative, then, is a brief history.
The planning for the first annual science fair began with Dr. Leonard Ford and his science fair committee in 1951-52 academic year. Dr. Ford became the fair’s first director and continued for many years. The fair was held on the lower campus and included exhibits and demonstrations by the faculty, graduate students, and undergraduate students of MSU. High school and grade school students were invited to attend the fair but did not yet participate.
Dr. Harold Hartzler also served as director during the early years of the fair. The fair continued to be held on the lower campus, but eventually included only exhibits by high school and grade school students. The fair continued to be relatively small by today’s standards through 1976, and a variety of sites were used before eventually moving the Science Fair Office to the upper campus.
Dr. Bill Edwards, Dr. Bob Graham and Dr. Bill Rankin also served as directors before 1979 because the biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics departments took it in turn to share the responsibility. Throughout the early years the directors accomplished the tasks of preparing for the fairs through committees, or with the help of departmental secretaries, work-study students, and student help.
In early 1979, Dr. Bill Bessler became the director and guided the fair during the next twenty years. During this time the fair experienced its most active period of growth, growing from about 275 participants to over 2,000. In 1985, because of the large growth, the science fair program was awarded a half-time secretarial/coordinator position through the assistance of Dr. John Frey (then Chair of Biology) and Dr. V. Dean Turner (then Dean of the College). Mary Zernechel, also the Biology Secretary, filled this position.
Dr. Bessler remained the sole director of the fair until the 1994-1995 academic year when Dr. Gregg Marg became co-director. After the 1995 Science Fair, Dr. Marg continued as the sole director of the fair until 2003 when Dr. Bessler left. In 2003 Mary Zernechel also left her position as science fair secretary/coordinator.
Mr. James Ballard became the director of the fair during the 2003-2004 academic year but left after one year. During this time the secretarial/coordinator position remained vacant, although student help was still used.
Dr. Bessler returned as director during the 2004-2005 academic year and remained so until after the fair in 2012. At the end of the 2004 calendar year, Mary Van Duynhoven accepted the science fair secretary/coordinator position and held the position until 2012.
Dr. Shannon Fisher became the director during the 2012-2013 academic year and now holds the position. Beth Rorvig accepted the science fair coordinator position in early 2013 and also continues to hold the position today.
For the 2014-2015 academic year Mr. Jimmy Thorne will serve as the interim director.
With the eventual move of the science fair office to the upper campus, the fair site also moved. The fair was held in the halls of the new Trafton Science Center, but eventually moved into Highland Arena (now Otto Arena). The junior/senior high students were in the balcony area and the elementary students were on the floor area. During this time the fair was held on only one day.
In 1986, after a near miss by a blizzard and with increased growth, the fair was split into the Junior/Senior Fair and the Elementary Fair. The Junior/Senior High Fair continued to be held in March but the Elementary Fair was moved to April. The Junior/Senior High Science Fair moved to the Student Union where it is now held in February as the Middle School/Senior High School Science Fair.
The Elementary Fair was now so large that after 1986 it was split between Otto Arena, the indoors field house (now Myers Field House), and Highland North addition gymnasium (now Schellberg Gymnasium). From 2002 to 2012 the Elementary Fair was held in The Taylor Center and Myers Field House. The Elementary Fair is now being held only in Myers Field House.
Names and Boundaries
The fair has held many titles over the years and incorporated different counties. Before state regional boundaries were established, the fair allowed the participation of all willing schools. After state regional boundaries were established, the southern portion of the state split into two regions: Southwestern and Southeastern. Mankato State College hosted the Southwest Minnesota Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
In the early 1970’s the Southwestern Fair was split into two regions — the Southwest Minnesota Regional Science and Engineering Fair (hosted by briefly by Southwest State) and the South Central Minnesota Regional Science and Engineering Fair (hosted by Mankato State College).
By 1974 Mankato had begun to host both the Southwest and South Central regions until Lakefield took over the Southwest Region in time for the 1977 fair, which was known as the 1st annual Southwest Minnesota Regional Science and Engineering Fair. This only lasted through 1978 when it returned to Mankato for the 1979 fair. Although the fairs recombined they were symbolically kept separate as the 3rd annual Southwest Fair and 28th annual South Central Fair. This numbering continued until 2012 when it simply became known as the 61st annual Science Fair.
In 1984, the regional affiliation with Intel ISEF increased as both the Southwest and the South Central regions were divided into North and South. MSU continues to host the four Intel ISEF affiliated regions (South Central North, South Central South, Southwest North, and Southwest South), but under the state affiliated region names (South Central and Southwest).
Starting in 2012 both fairs were opened to 6th graders. Because of this the Junior/Senior High Fair changed names and became the Middle School/Senior High School Science Fair.
In 2013 the two regional fairs officially combined and became known collectively as the Southern Region. Currently the official name for the science fair program is the Southern Minnesota Regional Science and Engineering Fair.
Early on the fair became affiliated with the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF). In the beginning, two students and their teachers/sponsors were given the opportunity to compete internationally. In 1979, as MSU hosted two regions, four students were able to be sent to ISEF with their teachers/sponsors. Since 1984, when ISEF split the two regions in half (creating the SCN, SCS, SWN and SWS regions), the fair has been able to send eight students to the Intel ISEF. Now the number of students sent to ISEF is no longer based upon the number of ISEF affiliated regions, but instead is based upon the number of schools and students participating in each state affiliated regional fair. We are within the top 10 largest ISEF affiliated regional scinece and engineering fairs in the United States!