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When my son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in 1985, there was not a lot of information available about the learning disability, and my son’s curiosity eventually drove him to research the disorder beginning in 1992. He was not a stellar student, but he pursued his research with a natural enthusiasm he often didn’t have for school work, which lead to success. He went to ISEF for the first time in 1994, and the experience changed him forever. The recognition he received and the skills he learned gave him a new self-confidence, resulting in positive attention from his teachers. He witnessed the difference hard work and dedication could make in his life, and the difference he could make in other people’s lives by helping to answer questions about ADD. Science fair was also a great bonding experience. Being a supportive advocate in his research quest was a positive thing for the two of us.
I knew that, despite the average grades, my son had the potential to achieve great things. He just needed the right thing to stimulate his interest. Hands-on, inquiry-based scientific research was that thing, and science fairs and Intel ISEF gave him the inspiration and encouragement he needed to pursue his research.
My son, Jay Sartain (ISEF 1994, 1995, 1996) went on to earn his B.S. in Psychology and an MBA, and he now enjoys a successful career with the Royal Bank of Canada. While he may not be a professional scientist, Jay says the skills he learned with science fair and the confidence he gained propelled his career.
That’s why, since he graduated, I have devoted my free time and even vacation time to help organize and manage the Central Texas Science and Engineering Fair and to volunteer at Intel ISEF. I continue volunteering because I realize the difference science fair made in my son’s life, and I want to make that opportunity available in other students’ lives. As a pharmacist at Wal-Mart and president of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, I also see it as an important way for me to contribute to the scientific world. I also know that helping these students is really two-fold. By showing them how valuable their thoughts, innovations, and work can be to society, we are giving them the confidence and resources they need to change the world.
Engaging in science research can impart a variety of skills—problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and effective communication, to name a few.
In 2003, we were being recruited to head up judging at Intel ISEF, which was being held in Phoenix two years later.