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The North Carolina International Science Challenge: The trip of a lifetime

This week, thanks to the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, EdNC is traveling with four high school students from North Carolina to China. We want students and teachers across our state to learn about this incredible opportunity so that next year from Murphy to Manteo we have students participating in the competition. Please share our posts throughout the week #NCEd2China.

You can tell a lot about a student from their backpack. After meeting Arjun, Dory, Ana Sofia, and Raymond at the airport yesterday, I took these snapshots of their backpacks so you could begin to get to know their personalities in addition to their research.

“Amazing things can happen when connections are made,”

writes Sam Houston, the president and CEO of the North Carolina SMT Center. Connections with students. Connections with mentors. Connections with leaders. Connections with other countries.

Here is how Houston tells the story in the book, The North Carolina International Science Challenge.


In 2005, Dr. Fran Nolan, then the director of the Grassroots Science Museum Collaborative, visited Beijing. He had met Lee Han earlier in the year and she invited him to visit the Beijing Youth Science Creation Competition that is an annual science event put on by the Beijing Association of Science and Technology. In 2006, Dr. Nolan and a delegation of three North Carolina students and several leaders in N.C. education traveled to Beijing to take part in the activities with the students sharing their research.

2017 marks the 12th trip to BYSCC. Yesterday, EdNC introduced you to the students on the trip this year, presenting their research on a world stage.

Houston continues,

In order to determine student participation to attend the BYSCC, the SMT Center created the NC International Science Challenge. The challenge is open to high school students in North Carolina who are conducting their own research. The competition begins with a research paper that is reviewed by a panel of scientists or engineers. Finalists for the trip to Beijing give oral presentations again judged by a panel of scientists, engineers, and educators. 

Dr. John Hardin and Dr. Nolan penned these three lessons that emerged early on in the trips to Beijing and have held true over time:

Science and education are about discovering and sharing information; as a result, they flourish when given the stimulus and freedom to grow.

Each country has its own unique strengths and weaknesses relative to science education; by working together and sharing our experiences both countries can learn and benefit.

We live in an increasingly dynamic, interdependent, and technology-driven world; in such a world, surviving requires responding to change and working with others to produce new knowledge that is shared for the good of all.

Dr. Nolan and his wife, Robin Bergeron, have led every trip since the very first one. It seems to be their own very special investment in our future.

Maybe that is why this trip has such a special feel. I felt a sense of pride when I met these students for the first time. They are remarkable researchers. But I also felt a sense of joy. They are high school students excited to represent their schools and their state. 

As we exited the airplane together in Chicago, Arjun’s eyes lit up. He introduced me to his mentor, Xuting Wang with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. I’m still not sure if the meeting was coincidental or not. Either way, it made our day.

Also on the trip with us are Dr. Matthew Meyer, associate vice president for STEM innovations with the N.C. Community College System, and Dr. Mike Mullen, vice chancellor and dean for academic and students affairs at N.C. State University. You’ll get to know our leaders as the week progresses.

Sarah Dawkins went on the trip to Beijing back in 2007. She advises, “My advice for students going on this trip would be to soak it in. Take as many pictures as possible, buy lots of souvenirs, and try to make as many friends as you can. I would also keep an open mind and enjoy every minute of it. This trip is a trip of a lifetime that you will look back on forever. You work hard to get the opportunity to go on this trip and you should enjoy every minute of it.”

We’ll make sure they do.

Houston concludes,

“The students that take part in the NC International Science Challenge are tackling real problems. Their science is relevant. These students are thinkers. They can create solutions.” 

Editor’s Note: Sam Houston serves on the Board of Directors of EdNC. Burroughs Wellcome Fund supports the work of EdNC.

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.