Science and Engineering Research Challenge

Approximately 450 middle school and high school students will exhibit their research projects at the 58th Annual Central New Mexico Science and Engineering Research Challenge, set for March 22-24 at the EXPO New Mexico's Manuel Lujan Jr. Exhibit Complex.

They will compete for the chance to move forward to the New Mexico State Science and Engineering Fair and/or directly to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. They will also compete for special monetary and other awards provided by local businesses and private donors.

"This event provides UNM a great opportunity to showcase the university, recruit from a pool of excellent future student candidates and promote science, technology, engineering, math and health sciences education in New Mexico," said Karen Kinsman, director of UNM's STEM-H Center for Outreach, Research and Education.

Students qualify to compete by entering their research or engineering project in local science fairs and being selected to move on to regional competition. For those students whose projects involve humans, vertebrate animals, or potential biosafety hazards, this means starting their research months beforehand in order to gather the necessary pre-approvals to proceed with their projects.

The UNM Office of Research and the UNM Health Sciences Center are the institutional sponsors for all events and competitions hosted by the UNM STEM-H Center. Other major sponsors this year include the HSC Office for Diversity, the UNM School of Engineering, Sandia National Laboratories, NAIOP-NM, PNM Resources, the Albuquerque Journal, Ethicon Endosurgery, Northrop Grumman Mission Systems, Raytheon, Boeing and New Mexico PBS.

Dozens of top student researchers and a number of STEM-H educators will receive monetary awards and scholarships. This year, several community partners have donated raffle prizes for the open house, slated for Friday, March 23, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. in EXPO New Mexico's Manuel Lujan Jr. Exhibit Complex, Hall B. Area STEM education providers will man tables and offer some hands-on activities. The public is welcome to attend.

It would not be possible to host such a large competition each year without the sponsors' support, Kinsman said. Approximately 400 volunteers donate nearly 2,900 hours of their time - equivalent to more than $86,000 in monetary value that the UNM STEM-H Center receives for free.

"Our staff is small, but industrious and dedicated," Kinsman said. "We rely on sponsors and volunteers donating their time and resources to enable us to make the Research Challenge an event that changes the lives of students who participate," Kinsman said.

"When our community sees events like this one, they recognize that we really do have a bright future as a society," she added. Our sponsors and donors know that these young people will become the next generation of successful scientists, engineers, programmers, mathematicians and health care professionals."

Students are scored in several areas, including their research question, design and methodology, data collection and testing, creativity, display board presentation and their oral Interview. That last component is the single most important aspect on judging day, because it helps students to stand apart from their peers, Kinsman said.

"Competitions like ours offer students opportunities to explore their interests in STEM-H-related areas and get their feet wet in the world of research and development of engineering projects," Kinsman said. "Beyond that, there are many awards, scholarships and other opportunities that give students a chance to move on to higher-level competitions and to develop a set of skills that will serve them for a lifetime, whether or not they do research or engineering projects beyond high school."

The best part of the competition is meeting the students and experiencing their excitement when they talk about their projects, said Erin Garcia, a UNM STEM-H CORE program specialist. "If a student doesn't make the cut, we don't want them to be discouraged," she said. "We want them to think about how they can improve their project for next year. Students should talk to as many judges, visitors and other students as possible, because they can learn a lot from their peers, especially those who have been through regional and state research competitions before."

The Grand Awards and Special Awards Ceremonies will take place on Saturday, March 18, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. in the EXPO NM Manuel Lujan Jr. Exhibit Complex - Hall A. Albuquerque mayor Tim Keller will offer welcoming remarks and first lady Liz Kistin Keller will be the featured speaker.

For further information or to volunteer at CNM SERC, please call the UNM STEM-H Center office at 505-277-4916 or email us at

Categories: Education, Research