Sustainability is central to all engineering projects and is becoming even more critical as our concern for environmental health is exacerbated by climate change and the need to produce “green” energy and conserve precious resources. Our global environment and economy are so inextricably intertwined that engineers must consider environmental impact in every financial decision they make, which is why the College of Engineering at New Mexico State University is committed to providing engineering students with the resources they need to address this challenge.

Given the growing importance of sustainability, it’s no wonder that undergraduate students in all fields of engineering who can highlight their experience solving environmental issues will be in the highest demand. If you are or know an undergraduate-level engineering student who wants to gain this valuable experience and, at the same time, make a real environmental difference, the WERC Environmental Design Contest might just be the perfect competition to foster an understanding of environmental issues!

The WERC Environmental Design Contest was founded over three decades ago by New Mexico State University’s College of Engineering, creating an opportunity for college students that has led to careers in academia, major engineering firms, and government agencies such as the EPA. Engineering professionals who have participated in the WERC competition have called it “an engineering education opportunity of a lifetime.” Modeled after an engineering Request for Proposals (RFP), this competition asks students to spend 3-6 months as “professional engineers,” creating a complete engineering design, including bench-scale testing and a business plan for full-scale implementation. It also gives students the chance to pitch their business plans during an exciting event called “Flash Talks”, a Shark-Tank-inspired setting where students give a 3-minute pitch of their designs to judges who pose as “investors.”

The contest culminates with oral presentations and bench-scale demonstrations in Las Cruces, NM, April 16-19, 2023. Winners are eligible for an award pool of $30,000 for their solutions, and top papers are published in IEEE’s Xplore journal. As an amazing bonus, students competing in the WERC Environmental Design Contest have the opportunity to meet with academic, government, and industry experts, providing them with valuable networking contacts to advance their research and potential career opportunities.

In 2022, a student reflected, “The interaction with the judges made this an even greater learning experience that we will carry into our careers. They helped us understand practical limitations and issues based on their real-world experiences.”

For the 2023 competition, students can choose from six project topics – “tasks” – all of which are designed by businesses and organizations with an immediate interest in competitors’ solutions to real-world problems. There are tasks for most fields of engineering. A seventh open task is also available for teams who want to select their own challenge to solve. The tasks this season are:

  • Beneficial wastewater reuse for rural communities
  • Vehicle-to-grid resiliency
  • Reducing water loss in mine tailings facilities
  • Detecting microplastics in reservoirs
  • Ammonia recovery from produced water
  • A NASA task – to be determined
  • Open task

How to Get Involved

Interested in the WERC Environmental Design Contest? Check out their guidelines to see if you or your team would be eligible. Sign up for their informational webinar on either July 20, 2022, or August 10, 2022 at 12:00PM Mountain Time to learn more about how to get started!

Informational webinars are 45 minutes long and give future competitors an introduction to the contest and the “hows” and “whys” of getting involved. Faculty, government, and industry speakers will be present to explain how the tasks are developed, how teams receive mentoring from professional engineers, and strategies for participating in the competition!

Register for July 20th

Register for August 10th

When people think of NASA the first things that come to mind are usually rockets and robots; however, NASA works on so many incredible areas of technology development that most of us don’t associate with the high tech space exploration administration. From advancing crop science that helps farmers increase their yields to improving how biomedical researchers can grow human tissues, NASA researchers have their hands in nearly every industry here on Planet One. And luckily, there are great ways for students to get involved and get recognized by NASA!

We’re fortunate to be living in the Artemis era, as second golden era of space exploration where NASA has a prime directive to return humans to the Moon and push on to Mars! Right now, excitement about space is growing faster than a speeding neutrino! The recent launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the development of new commercial space stations, the discovery of Earth-like exoplanets, the launch of commercial astronauts and (soon!) sending crewed missions to the moon! There’s never been a better time to get involved in space programs than right now.

But how do you get started? How do you get recognized by NASA. I mean, those people are wicked smart! If you’re a student in high school or college and you want to work at NASA helping to advance any of the amazing projects on the horizon, it might seem a little daunting to even know how to begin. Well, NASA, and a bunch of supporting organizations have tons of amazing competitions and contests that students can participate in.

These student competitions, contests, challenges, and prize programs are amazing ways to get recognized by and connected with NASA. Not only that, their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) focus, helps students prepare for a wide array of college and career opportunities. So if you want to get recognized by the smarty pants at NASA, you might want to start here. We’ve compiled a list of our top competitions that can help you get connected with NASA!


1.   Plant the Moon and Mars Challenge

Age Range: Elementary, Middle, High, and College

Tags: Citizen Science, Science Fair, Agriculture, Botany, Lunar Exploration, Mars Exploration, Life Support, Mission Design.

This STEM competition challenges teams of up to 10 students to see who can grow the best crops in Lunar or Martian regolith! It combines agriscience, farming, and botany with space exploration, planetary science, geology, and NASA mission technology development. Teams receive 5kg packs of simulated regolith painstakingly engineered by the University of Central Florida’s Exolith Laboratory to be as close to the real thing as possible. Through an 8 week grow period, students conduct their own experiments to test out which types of crops grow best with which types of fertilizers added to the simulated regolith.

Students get connected with NASA researchers, botanists, and university academics to learn how NASA is helping to advance crop science for space exploration and for the agriculture industry here at home. Anyone interested in testing out their hand at being an astrofarmer, check out this citizen science competition!

Learn more:


2.   Lunabotics

Age Range: College

Tags: Robotics, Mining, Lunar Exploration

LUNABOTICS is a STEM competition for college students that supports NASA’s lunar technology development by focusing on lunar construction with a challenge to build robots to simulate building a section of a berm on the lunar surface. On the lunar surface, a berm would surround lander launch and landing pads to prevent dust and debris from spreading onto habitats and experiments during.  The challenge provides students exposure to NASA’s systems engineering process: design, develop and evaluate robots, and an opportunity to be involved in a challenge with other community colleges, colleges/universities at KSC. The teams will also perform public outreach, submit systems engineering papers and present and demonstrate their work to a NASA review panel.


3.   Human Exploration Rover Challenge

Ages: High, College

Tags: Rovers, Lunar Expedition

This STEM competition for high school and college students tasks teams to design, develop, build, and test human-powered rovers capable of traversing challenging terrain and task tools for completion of various mission tasks.


4.   International Space Settlement Design Competition

Age: high

Tags: Space Exploration, Mission Design, Habitats, Engineering

Through these hands on students competitions, teams of high school students adopt positions within a simulated professional workplace setting related to a future space settlement scenario. They are mentored by industry professionals as they work to deliver solutions to simulated futuristic aerospace engineering scenarios. Students gain a deeper understanding of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) – specifically their application in the industries of today and tomorrow –providing them a platform to pursue careers in aeronautical, and other, fields and disciplines.


5.   Spaceport America Cup

Ages: college

Tags: Rocketry

The Spaceport America Cup is the world’s largest Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition for student rocketry teams. With over 120 teams from colleges and universities in twenty countries, the competition continues to grow every year. Students launch solid, liquid, and hybrid rockets to target altitudes of 10,000 and 30,000 feet. A great way for college students to connect their STEM skills with NASA launch goals!


6.   The American Rocketry Challenge

Ages: middle, high

Tags: Rocketry

The American Rocketry Challenge is the world’s largest rocket contest with nearly 5,000 students nationwide competing each year. The contest gives middle and high school students the opportunity to design, build and launch model rockets and hands-on experience solving engineering problems. This STEM competition for students is a sure way to get NASA to recognize your students’ work!


7.   NASA Student Launch Competition

Ages: middle, high, college

Tags: rocketry

NASA’s Student Launch is a research-based, competitive, experiential exploration activity. It strives to provide relevant, cost-effective research and development of rocket propulsion systems. The student competition provides science, technology, engineering, and math skills for students that are directly relevant to NASA. This project offers multiple challenges reaching a broad audience of middle and high schools, colleges, and universities across the nation.


8.   Micro-G Next

Ages: college

Tags: science, research, microgravity, Neutral Buoyancy

Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Teams encourages undergraduate students to design, build and test a tool or device that addresses an authentic, current space exploration challenge. The challenge includes hands-on engineering design, test operations and public outreach. Test operations are conducted in a simulated microgravity environment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston, Texas.


9.   NASA BIG Idea Challenge

Ages: college, graduate

Tags: robotics, rover, space exploration

The 2022 BIG Idea Challenge provides undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to design, develop, and demonstrate robotic systems with alternative rover locomotion modalities for use in off-world extreme lunar terrain applications. A panel of NASA and industry judges selected seven innovative ideas from the academic community for a wide range of alternative rover locomotion modalities to either enhance or replace traditional wheeled mobility systems that can expand our access to extreme terrain on the Moon and (later) on Mars.


10. Great Lunar Expedition for Everyone (GLEE)

Age Range: High, College

Tags: Lunar Exploration, Programming, Satellites,

Inspired by NASA’s Apollo Moon landings over 50 years ago, the Great Lunar Expedition for Everyone (GLEE) will be a catalyst for a new generation of space missions and explorers. This scientific and technological mission to the Moon will deploy 500 LunaSats to the lunar surface to conduct local and distributed science missions. LunaSats are tiny spacecraft with an integrated sensor suite that will be programmed by teams of students all over the world for a mission of their own design. These teams will be mentored by GLEE program staff through the programming, test, launch, and data gathering process. GLEE will be free to all teams that are selected for participation. From hands-on activities to a global citizen science network, GLEE is the next step to inspire and engage the world in a truly global mission to the Moon.


11. International Space Apps Challenge

Ages: high, college, graduate, professional

Tags: coding, programming

The NASA International Space Apps Challenge (Space Apps) is an international hackathon for coders, scientists, designers, storytellers, makers, builders, technologists, and others in cities around the world, where teams engage the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) free and open data to address real-world problems on Earth and in space.

Each October, over the course of two days, Space Apps brings participants from around the world together at hundreds of in-person and virtual local events to solve challenges submitted by NASA experts. After the hackathon, project submissions are judged by space agency experts and winners are selected for one of 10 Global Awards. Space Apps provides problem-solvers worldwide with NASA’s free and open data, giving teams the opportunity to learn how to use these resources to solve each year’s challenges.


12. Zero Robotics Competition

Ages: Middle, High

Tags: Robotics, Microgravity, International Space Station, Coding, Programming

Zero Robotics is a robotics programming competition where the robots are SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold Engage and Reorient Experimental Satellites) inside the International Space Station. The competition starts online, on this website, where teams program the SPHERES to solve an annual challenge. After several phases of virtual competition in a simulation environment that mimics the real SPHERES, finalists are selected to compete in a live championship aboard the ISS. An astronaut will conduct the championship competition in microgravity with a live broadcast!


13. NASA AstroPhoto Contests

Ages: Elementary, Middle, High, College, Graduate

Tags: Photography, science, astrophotography, data science

NASA’s Astrophoto Challenges include two challenges: the MicroObservatory Challenge and the NASA Data Challenge. Teams entering either challenge could be selected by NASA’s Universe of Learning team as a standout entry for feedback from NASA scientists! In the MicroObservatory Challenge, students capture their own real-time telescope image of the Carina Nebula, and process it with MicroObservatory’s JS9‑4L tool. Then student teams consider how the image of the Carina Nebula that they processed compares to an image of the Carina Nebula processed by NASA. In the NASA Data Challenge, student teams select any of NASA’s images of Eta Carina & the Carina Nebula and process them with MicroObservatory’s JS9‑4L tool. Then students use all the techniques they’ve learned with MicroObservatory to process real NASA data and create their best image.


14. Space Entrepreneurs Academy

Ages: high, college

Tags: technology, research, science, entrepreneurship, mission design,

This high school and university student education program combines science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) with the excitement of commercial space entrepreneurship. The Space Entrepreneurs Academy (SEA) engages students in a wide array of aerospace topics through a unique library of diverse video interviews and custom tutorial videos from industry executives, academic researchers, and government leaders. The SEA provides an innovative digital learning opportunity to engage students in the STEM concepts behind commercial space entrepreneurship and encourages critical thinking about the future of the aerospace industry.

Each year, the academy concludes with a pitch competition presenting innovative new ideas for commercial space businesses from the top students around the world. Students completing the Space Entrepreneurship Academy are trained on a unique combination of entrepreneurship and aerospace content, gaining skills to help them bolster the rapidly growing workforce and launch the next wave of innovative aerospace products, services, and businesses.

The Space Entrepreneurs Academy opens in the fall of 2022. To receive information about this competition make sure you are registered on the ICS platform.



Find out more about these and hundreds of other competitions for students on the Institute of Competition Sciences platform! Join us as a featured member to get access to special discounts, unique competition opportunities, and to get an insider advice on how to succeed in all kinds of academic competitions.

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The future is bright for careers in tech. With job growth across the field, tech workers are in high demand.  What’s more, tech careers have higher than average salaries and job satisfaction. So what can you do in a tech job? You could analyze data related to scientific research, engineer website and mobile applications, research and optimize companies’ marketing, develop video games, or work in cybersecurity for a government organization. When it comes to tech careers, the possibilities are endless.

 However, tech jobs aren’t for everyone. As with any career, there are skills you need to develop in order to thrive in tech. If you’re interested in a tech career, start by practicing analytical, problem-solving, and project management skills as well as learning programming languages and common operating systems. There are many academic competitions that can help you learn and master these skills.

Competitions for a future in tech

American Computer Science League – Computer science contests for grade 11 and 12 
CyberPatriot – Online cyber defense competition for teams of K-12 students
Cyber Robotics Coding CompetitionVirtual 3D robotics tournament for grade 6-8
Future Problem Solving ProgramCreative problem-solving competition for grades 4 – 12
Imagine Cup (Microsoft) –  Global team computer science competition for students over 16
MakeX Spark Online CompetitionCreative design competition for ages 6 to 13
National Cyber League – Cybersecurity competition for high school students
ProjectCSGirlsTech and social issues focused competition for girls in grades 6-8
REACH ChallengeTeam design-thinking project for middle school and high school students
STEM Fuse: Got Game Competition – Video game design competitions for grades 5-12
Technovation Girls – Free tech-based team competition for girls ages 10 – 18

Find more tech-focused competitions in the Institute of Competition Sciences (ICS) database. Upgrade to a premium account for additional tools to help track your progress in competitions and get special discounts on ICS-managed programs!

As the education system pushes to add science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, to the curriculum, we must remember the importance the arts play in a child’s development and success into adulthood.


According to the business resource Inc., 73% of employers in today’s workforce want to hire someone with strong written and communication skills.


With writing skills being a top priority, the question then becomes, how do we encourage students to foster a love of the arts alongside increasing their skills in STEM?


A great way to encourage both the arts and STEM education while also building a strong work ethic and life skills is participating in one of these 10 environmental writing contests.

Nicodemus Wilderness Project Apprentice Ecologist Awards

This program has received many awards for its economic impact, and the skills it teaches its participants are noteworthy too. Students who participate in the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative will get the chance to improve the environmental or social well-being of their own community. Its design is unique because it allows students to assert their leadership skills in an area that means the most to them – whether that’s their local wildlife, education, or community activism.


Scholastic Art and Writing Awards

In this competition, teens in 7th – 12th grade can apply in 29 different art and writing categories. Student submissions are scored on their originality, technical skills, and their personal vision or voice. This gives participants the freedom to think outside the box and truly artistically express themselves.


Tunza Eco Generation Environmental Essay Competition

This competition is all about encouraging young people to think about the natural world’s importance. Students will complete an original work of writing that conveys their perspective on mother nature and how they believe we can improve our care for the planet.


Young Reporters for the Environmental International Competition

This competition is unique in that it allows students to think about the environment on a global scale. Participants submit their most inspiring entries surrounding the theme of littering less. Winners of each national competition will then get to compete against one another in the international finals. These winners will gain global recognition for their creative thinking and environmental problem-solving—what a great way to start a student’s resume off right.


Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature

This competition inspires students to get creative and develop an original literary masterpiece. Whether they are into mysteries, thrillers, or dramas, students can write a story that interests the reader and promotes environmental and animal protection.


The Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing

Participants in this writing competition must write a book that inspires its readers to explore the great outdoors and respect the world we live in. For students who dream of writing their own books one day, this is a great place to learn the process and understand the work that goes into writing an inspiring piece of literature.


Gingko Prize for Eco poetry

This international competition helps demonstrate the power poetry can have in inspiring a better world. Participants will create an original poem that highlights the natural world and raises awareness of various environmental issues.


PEN Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction

If your student is into fiction, this is a great competition for them to participate in. This organization believes in inspiring students to consider writing fiction as a career by demonstrating to them the power their fictional stories can have on social justice and their own community’s culture and politics. This competition is an excellent balance of inspiring students to find a love of writing and making a difference on issues that are impacting their communities.


Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Student Contest

This platform is designed to teach students about the issues plaguing our oceans through art and creative communication. Participants will also get the opportunity to explore how what happens to our oceans impacts the rest of the world and what action we can take to make a difference.


River of Words Contest

This competition is a beautiful blend of science and art for students to explore. Students are free to create an original poem or work of art that demonstrates a respect for the environment and teaches about a specific region.


Whether your student is interested in the oceans, making an environmental impact, or advocating for social justice issues in their community, competing in one of these writing competitions will inspire them to action.


These competitions will reinforce the STEM learning happening in the classroom and teach students the importance of the arts and creative communications to impact the world around them. Combining STEM skills and the ever-important writing skills is a great way to help students get ready for college and successful careers.

Interested in one of the exciting competitions above? Head to our competitions page to see what academic competitions are coming up. Set up your account to follow competitions that excite you and stay up-to-date on all the news with academic competitions.

Are you interested in more than one academic competition? Upgrade to a premium account so you can track your progress in competitions, get insider information on academic competitions, access the ICS competitions concierge, and gain exclusive discounts on ICS-managed programs.”









What does it take to build and operate a competitive robot? Students in robotics competitions have been discovering the answer to that question for decades. There’s a reason that robotics competitions like FIRST and BattleBots were the first STEM competitions to go “mainstream.” Beyond the engineering and programming skills that they foster, robotics competitions encourage teamwork, creativity, problem-solving, and determination. Just as important, though, the competitions are really, undeniably fun.

If you’re interested in engineering, design, tech, or team sports, then you’ll love robotics competitions. Even students as young as 5 and as advanced as graduate school can participate. With most robotics competitions requiring mentors, teachers and parents also have an opportunity to join in on the excitement. After reviewing many robotics competitions for students of all ages, we’ve boiled our recommendations for how to win down to just one overarching tip: practice!

Robots don’t just do what you want them to right out the gate (unless you are a genius robot yourself). To get the robots to do what you want takes many iterations. Try something out, if it doesn’t work, learn from it. Learning from these small failures during your practice runs will make your team better prepared for the real tournaments! Take some time every week to think about a certain task or need for your robot in the challenge you’re participating it. Then practice that from many different angles again and again. Try different strategies to get it to do what you want, and when you get frustrated that its not working, learn from that, and try something new! Practicing the many different strategies you can use to get your robots to do what you want them to is – in our opinion – the single best way to win more robotics competitions.

If you want to expand your participation in robotics competitions check out some of the lesser known programs in our list below:


Popular Robotic Competitions 

FIRST Robotics Competition – The gold standard of robotics competitions, FIRST challenges teams of high school students to design, build, and program robots that will compete with others on the international stage. 

VEX Robotics Competition – Middle and high school teams from around the world compete in this innovative robot engineering challenge. The founding organization also hosts online competitions

Botball – In Botball, middle and high school teams build autonomous bots. Students learn artificial intelligence and advanced coding to prepare their bot for battle. 

BEST Robotics Challenge – Middle and high school student teams design and build task-performing robots that will compete in secret challenges revealed on competition day.


Robotics For All 

Autonomous Aerial Vehicle Tournament – Participants program drones to complete tasks. The tournament is open to robotics enthusiasts of all ages.

Cyber Robotics Coding Competition – Virtual 3D robotics tournament open to grade 6-8

MakeX Spark Online Competition – Online coding and robotics competition for students age 6-13 

MATE Underwater Robotics Competition – Students from kindergarten to grad school will design and build remotely operated vehicles to take on ocean missions 

National Robotics Challenge – Students grade 6 to grad school findrather than buymaterials to build a competitive robot 

World Robot Olympiad – Global themed robotics competition open to students ages 6 – 25

Find other exciting robotics competitions in the ICS database which allows you to search competitions by theme and grade level. With an upgraded account, you can track and manage your participation in the competitions, making sure you don’t miss a minute of the action! Don’t forget to get your own Premium account to help you manage your participation and get special updates and discounts on ICS competitions!


Science competitions are blowing up all across the globe. Students from nearly every nationality participate in major science competitions every spring. In 2017 over 4 million K-12 students competed for over $8,000,000 in awards just in STEM competitions! And it's only getting bigger. At ICS we track hundreds of STEM focused competitions. There are programs for every interest from environmental conservation to rocketry to city planning! You can find the competitions best suited for your skills and interests on our ICS database here.


Spring time is when many of the big science competitions have their final tournaments, fairs, and presentations. We compiled this list of when some of the big ones are happening, and we'll be following the action closely to report on which schools are rising to the top of the STEM leaderboard after each competition. Here's what's coming up in the big science competitions:


ISEF 17-May Public day Exhibition of Projects
Regeneron Science Talent Search 11-Mar Public exhibition of awards
Discovery 3M Young Scientist 19-Apr Deadline to Submit Entries
Science Bowl April 26-30 National Competition
Ocean Sciences Bowl April 19-22 National Finals
Science Olympiad May 18-19 National Tournament
iGEMS 16-Feb Early registration deadline (final reg deadline is April 30th)
BioGENEius June 4-7 International final competition


We'll follow up on this post as new award winners are announced to update the leaderboards! 


By now, most of us know that when it comes to getting into a good college it takes more than just making the grades and a high SAT score. Colleges like to know that there is more to you than just how well you can take tests. They want to see what kind of person you are and know well you can work under pressure. Can you think on your feet? How good are your problem-solving skills? What it really boils down to is this— are you a well-rounded person who can think? Can you problem-solve the challenges that are likely to come your way?

Luckily, this is where academic competitions really stand out. Science fairs are the standard STEM based competition that just about every middle and high school is involved in one way or another. At one point, nearly every student completes a science fair project these days. However, just like quarterbacks, pitchers, and sprinters, academic athletes shouldn’t just go out and jump into these competitions without preparation. To perform well takes meticulous training, careful preparation, and a lot of planning. So we put together four helpful tips to keep in mind as you prepare for your next round of science fairs! Following these tips can help you get jump-started and lead to a dramatic rise in your academic performance so that you will be the one getting noticed for future college and career opportunities.


First of All, Be Proactive.

If there is one thing that most of us mere mortals are prone to doing, it’s failing to realize when we need help. Youth are notoriously bad at this. When we’re young we want to prove that we can do it all on our own. We don’t realize that even the smartest among us need a helping hand. And when we’re young, having the right mentor can be the difference between just completing a competition, and getting to nationals. Mentors help us get over hurdles that we didn’t even know where there.

So the question is, how do you find the right mentor? Can’t our teachers be our mentors? Often-times yes. High School educators or local college or university professors can be great mentors. But students have to be proactive in seeking them out. Our educators are swamped with things to do. And if it looks like they just won’t have the time or ability to be a good mentor to you or your team, go beyond the school. There are many non-profit organizations in the STEM fields that are focused on providing quality mentors from STEM industries. According to the science education organization Science Buddies, 85% of all Science Talent Search participants had to find their own mentors.

So don’t wait for your teachers to dive in, be proactive and search out your own mentors. Check out the Science Buddies article for some more details on where you can go, but to start out with, your local college or university is a great place to begin. The professors there are usually very excited to help their local high school students, or if they don’t have the time themselves, they will know who can.


Be Different.

There are a lot of great science projects out there that have been done again and again. Simply putting a new twist on the old volcano top project won’t get you into the winners circle at any meaningful level. If you really want to have a great shot at winning, come up with something new and different, or make sure you really have a unique addition to a standard project. If you go with the table top volcano project, make sure you have new research on a specific structure of the volcano that could add to our understanding of their explosions. Or that you have examined specific ways to stop or modify lava flows. Even the old-school projects can lead to great success, but you have to be different, unique, and detailed! If you can, come up with a project that is something the judges haven’t seen before or haven’t seen much of. They will be more likely to remember your project than someone else’s they’ve seen done a hundred times. When they are trying to decide who the winners are, it helps to be memorable.


Be Interested!

Passion is the buzzword on everyone's lips when it comes to career success and happiness. You have to be passionate about your job. One of the most famous quotes about this is from the #1 all-star of science, Albert Einstein. He said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” So take it from uncle Al and be passionately curious.  This goes the same for your science fair project. Someone could suggest or you could find a project that is fresh, complex, and challenging but if it doesn’t interest you, you need to move on. It may be the kind of subject material that winning projects are made of. But if you are not interested in it yourself, your project will suffer. Don’t let someone else choose your science fair project! It has to come from you.

When it is something that you are interested in, you attack the project with more intensity. You put forth more effort into testing your theory than you realize simply because you like what you are doing. When it comes time to present your project, you will do so with more vigor because you are invested in it. That passion will be apparent to the judges, and it will make you and your project appear more interesting and more likely to win. Check out this article from the Huffington Post if you want more quotes from some of the most successful people in the world on how they view passion as the most important part of their careers.


Be Specific!

Make sure you don’t choose a topic that is too open-ended or broad. An open-ended project may seem interesting enough, but the judges will want more than just your surface level data. They are going to want a definitive conclusion; not just a statement that “more research will be necessary.” Science fair projects should be able to have discovered something, even if you think it is very small and trivial, make sure you have some specific key findings at the end.

Stay organized, stay with it, and see it through to the end: If you are unorganized, you will have a hard time realizing everything that you know and keeping track of it. It will be just as hard to know what you need to find out and should be looking for. Nothing will be more frustrating than realizing you just repeated something because you couldn’t find your original results.

The best projects will not be easy. They will challenge you and you will have moments where it will look like you have failed. But the judges will appreciate your persistence. Just because the first 25 trials were failures doesn’t mean No. 26 will not be right. Judges look for specifics. They want to see that you have been able to understand your project and the topic better than anyone else.


So take these tips home and remember: Be Proactive, Be Different, Be Interested, and Be Specific to tackle your science fair project and have the best shot at getting to the top.


This summer, the world of academic competitions was abuzz with what was perhaps the most buzzed about high school STEM competition ever. Not only was there a series of firsts in the competition itself, but there was a mix of politics, international intrigue, and yes even a President stepping in with a last minute game changer! The perfect makings for the next big J.J. Abrams hit movie!

When 6 teenage girls from Afghanistan wanted to come to the United States to participate in the inaugural FIRST Global Challenge – a robotics competition geared towards promoting a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in the leaders of tomorrow – they were stopped dead in their tracks when their visas were denied.

Even though their robot had made it to the competition, after several attempts to gain entry, the 6 young Afghan engineers were probably ready to give up as the competition date neared. Then something unexpected happened, something extraordinarily out of the ordinary (at least for this political cycle). President Donald J. Trump – the man who’s every word led us to believe he would be the last person to do so – intervened to permit the girls entry for the competition.

This news got our team at ICS thinking – since everything these days seems to be about politics – we needed to ask, why did President Trump choose to intervene on these girls’ behalf while attempting to ban millions of other Muslims from entry to the country? Was there ever a danger of letting them in to compete? And taking it a step further, this question quickly expands to the broader notion of, “How should the United States handle educating the next generation of scientists and engineers from foreign countries?” What if we know they are not going to be staying in the US and contributing to our economy? Does that matter in the long-run? 

We wanted to bring this up not to push our own opinions on what is right or wrong, but to attempt to have an open discussion on how academic competitions at the international stage like this can have an impact not only on the participants, but on the fundamental nature of our society. More so than sports and international athletic competitions, academic challenges have the potential to change the future because of their affect on who will be the next leaders in important technological areas such as science and engineering. With such amazing power to change the world, ICS is on a mission to bring out scientific knowledge about how can we maximize this power for good.

So, we decided to have a short thought experiment (admittedly a fairly surface-level experiment given the complexity of the topic) on this question by posing basic arguments from both sides. So here they are, our surface-level arguments for and against educating with our arms wide open. We would love to hear your input.


Bring them on!

On the one hand, we can say, “Yes, bring them on!” The United States should be positioning our country as the global leader in STEM by bringing future leaders here and showing them our American culture and expertise. Having a global challenge where our students compete against the best and brightest from other nations ultimately improves everyone’s skills, so we all win. There are innumerable accounts of foreign scientists, engineers, and mathematicians coming to the US and adding to our economy, not to mention global prosperity (we can attribute much of our technologies today to foreign immigrants).

So, what if we expand the question to where we know the foreign students will not be returning to the US and contributing to our economy? Is it the case that any knowledge they gain from their educational experiences here will be going back with them to their country? Well, we then might make the argument for allowing them to participate by stating how the issues and problems that many international competitions challenge students to solve are global in nature. In these cases, figuring out solutions doesn’t just make a participant’s home country a better place, but will make the world a better place. And we will all win.

Furthermore we could argue that these experiences in the US for foreign students are a great way to highlight American culture, and to help encourage students to bring American values back to their home countries, thereby indirectly helping us avert future conflicts. Unfortunately, we can never know for sure how the knowledge gained in these programs will be used, but there are many obvious benefits to allowing and encouraging these global opportunities to share knowledge. So this brings us to the other side of the coin.


Where's the wall?

On the other hand, the argument can be made that by encouraging students in other countries to embrace and excel in STEM we risk falling behind in those areas ourselves – areas critical to our national defense and economy. If we fall behind too much, we risk becoming dependent on other nations for new technologies, and risk having inferior technology for national defense and other economic drivers.

So should we shut the doors and focus on educating our own to be the best they can be? On this side of the argument, defenders of the wall may highlight examples of foreigners who were educated in the United States and went on to join terrorist groups – perhaps the most recent high profile example being “Lady Al-Queda” an MIT-trained neuroscientist from Pakistan who was convicted in 2010 of attempting to murder Americans and sentenced to 86 years in federal prison. We can never know what any individual will do with their education, so is it worth the risk bringing foreigners here to get trained through our programs? This is the ultimate question, do the benefits of global knowledge sharing and bringing people around the world together behind education outweigh the potential risks to our national economy or society? 


This article is not an attempt to plant our flag and state which argument we believe is right. This article is an attempt to bring about open discussion to help understand the nuances of this very complex issue and to hopefully highlight some more specifics and detailed data from our community in the comments and social media. We always believe in open discussion and think that international competitions like FIRST’s Global Challenge (and many others) may benefit from better understanding on how to manage potentially sensitive situations on the international stage. Situations that do have long-term implications for the future stability of our country and society. Education is a powerful force – perhaps the most powerful change-maker we have over the long-term – and one thing we do believe at ICS is that we must work hard to maximize its value for global good.

So what do you think? Should we close the doors to bringing international students to the US for these kinds of competitions? What if we know they’re going back to their home countries rather than staying and contributing to our economy? Or should we open the gates in an understanding that the benefits of sharing our culture and values will outweigh the potential detriments?

We’d love to hear your comments on both sides of the argument!

And don’t forget to signup for a free account with ICS to stay up on all the action with these and other interesting topics in academic competitions. We treat academics like the rest of the world treats sports and are working hard to bring more of these programs to the public sphere.