Notre Dame hosts annual science and engineering fair

Author: Shadia Ajam

Abigayle and Jennifer Robichaud
Abigayle Robichaud and her mom, Jennifer, at NIRSEF.

This past Saturday, (Feb. 28) students from grades 3-12 convened at the Stepan Center for the Northern Indiana Regional Science and Engineering Fair (NIRSEF). Students from Elkhart, Fulton, Marshall, and St. Joseph counties were selected by judges at their local school science fairs to participate in NIRSEF.

This year 287 participants from over 50 area schools registered for NIRSEF in Elementary, (grades 3-5) Junior, (grades 6-8) and Senior Divisions (grades 9-12). The goal of the fair is to provide a positive environment for youth to experiment, create, and explore the world of science with the guidance of parents and teachers.

Abigayle Robichaud, a third grader from Swanson Primary Center, presented a project called,"How does elasticity help a ball bounce?" When asked about her experience at NIRSEF she said, "There were lots of judges judging my project. I really like it here so next year I’m going to do it again."

The agenda for the fair includes a closed judging portion followed by an open two hours of viewing where the public is welcome to see the different projects. All participating students are eligible for special awards and each student receives either a first place, second place, third place, or Honorable Mention ribbon within their Category. Each Division is made up of projects from up to 17 categories defined by the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. The category awards ensure that each project receives feedback and an accolade for participating.

“The NIRSEF encourages the creativity and hard work of the next generation of scientists and engineers by engaging students in grades 3-12 with judges from STEM professions and programs of higher education who volunteer their time to provide positive feedback and enthusiasm for learning,” said Alisa Zornig Gura, science and engineering academic community engagement program manager at Notre Dame and executive director of NIRSEF.

Six winners were selected to present their awards at the College of Science Joint Annual Meeting in May, the college’s largest undergraduate research symposium. This year’s presenters include: 7th grader Joseph Rice from St. Thomas the Apostle School, 8th grader Amy Wyse from ETHOS Academy, 6th grader Maddie Ritchison from Triton Elementary School, 8th grader Bridget Goodwine from Christ the King School, 8th grader Nick Emerson from ETHOS Academy, and 8th grader Aidan Kaczanowski from St. Thomas the Apostle School.

“Some kids have big goals because this is their second year of participating. They had the experience last year and now they want to win an award. I’m really excited to see their expressions this afternoon when they find out they won an award,” said middle school teacher Tracey Ackerley from St. Thomas the Apostle School.

To send projects to NIRSEF, local fair directors (teachers) must register their schools with the Science Education Foundation of Indiana. If you are a new teacher interested in learning more about how to hold a local fair, please contact the NIRSEF Executive Director, Alisa Zornig Gura. Students may register their projects for NIRSEF only after their teachers have entered them into the SEFI system and selected them to advance to the regional fair.

To learn more about NIRSEF, visit