Saturday, May 18, 2024

Arkansas Students Win Soybean Science Challenge Awards at Seven Regional and State Science Fairs

⋅ BY REBEKAH HALL ⋅

Across Arkansas, hundreds of junior and high school students competed in regional science fairs this spring. Fifteen of these students won Soybean Science Challenge awards, provided by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board, which seeks to improve the sustainability and profitability of one of the state’s largest crops.

“The Soybean Science Challenge provides an opportunity for Arkansas junior high and high school students to participate in scientific research that can impact the state of Arkansas as well as the world,” said Julie Robinson, Extension professor of leadership and director of the Soybean Science Challenge program for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

“Student researchers learn about this important commodity crop and its many uses, including feeding the world, development of biofuels, and sustainable products. The Soybean Science Challenge helps students develop an understanding of the challenges and complexities of modern farming.”

The Soybean Science Challenge launched to 9-12 grade students in 2014 and now includes 6-8 grade students as well. The statewide, farmer-funded education program aims to improve students’ knowledge about the value of Arkansas soybeans, the crop’s contributions to the state’s economy and labor force, and its unique ability to feed and fuel the world.

“The goal of the Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge is to engage students in ‘real- world’ education to support soybean production and agricultural sustainability,” said Gary Sitzer, a former member of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board. “The program also rewards scientific inquiry and discovery that supports the Arkansas soybean industry.”

2024 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge State Winners: Arkansas State Science and Engineering Fair

  • Bennet Chen, 14, freshman at Little Rock Central High School: State Soybean Science Challenge First Place Award winner at Arkansas State Science and Engineering Fair
    • $1,000 reward; teacher Tarsha Parker won $300 Soybean Science Challenge Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Jana Abuelem, 15, junior at Pulaski Academy in Little Rock: Soybean Science Challenge Second Place Award winner at Arkansas State Science and Engineering Fair
    • $500 award; teacher Katie Parsons won $200 Soybean Science Challenge Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Sulli Schaffer, 16, sophomore at Gravette High School in Gravette: Soybean Science Challenge Honorable Mention Award winner at Arkansas State Science and Engineering Fair
    • $250 award; teacher Alison Schaffer won $100 Soybean Science Challenge Honorable Mention Teacher-Mentor Award

2024 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge Winners: Senior Division

Bennet Chen, 14, a freshman at Little Rock Central High School, is the State Soybean Science Challenge First Place Award winner at the Arkansas State Science and Engineering Fair. The Soybean Science Challenge is an education program, co-sponsored by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, that aims to educate students about one of the state’s largest crops. (Students’ photo.)
  • Bennet Chen, 14, freshman at Little Rock Central High School: Soybean Science Challenge Regional Award winner at Central Arkansas Science and Engineering Fair
    • $300 reward; teacher Tarsha Parker won $200 Soybean Science Challenge Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Duyen Do, 18, senior at Fayetteville Christian Academy: Soybean Science Challenge Regional Award winner at Northwest Arkansas Regional Science and Engineering Fair
    • $300 award; teacher Patrick Briney, won $200 Soybean Science Challenge Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Alice Dong, 17, junior at Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts (ASMSA) in Hot Springs: Soybean Science Challenge Regional Award winner at West Central Arkansas Science Fair
    • $300 award; teacher Lindsey Waddell won $200 Soybean Science Challenge Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Sydney Fuller, 15, sophomore at Stuttgart High School: Soybean Science Challenge Regional Award winner at Southeast Arkansas Science Fair
    • $300 award; teacher Katherine Yancy won $200 Soybean Science Challenge Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Ka’Lee Hanson, 16, sophomore at Emerson High School: Soybean Science Challenge Senior Division Award winner at Southwest Arkansas STEM Night
    • $300 award; teacher Amanda Watson won $200 Soybean Science Challenge Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Anna Leslie, 17, and Sydney Wolf, 17, both seniors at The Academies at Jonesboro High School: Soybean Science Challenge Senior Division Award winners at Northeast Arkansas Regional Science Fair
    • $300 award split between Leslie and Wolf; Allyson Goodin won $200 Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Kacylyn Reupta, 14, freshman at Genoa Central High School in Texarkana: Soybean Science Challenge Senior Division Award winner at Ouachita Mountain Regional Science and Engineering Fair
    • $300 award; teacher Sheila Bentley won $200 Soybean Science Challenge Teacher-Mentor Award

2024 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge Winners: Junior Division

  • Suleyman Acikgoz, 13, eighth grader at Lisa Academy West Middle School in Little Rock: Soybean Science Challenge Junior Division Award winner at Central Arkansas Regional Science and Engineering Fair
    • $200 award; teacher Sevcan Acikgoz won $100 Soybean Science Challenge Junior Division Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Me’Shelle Hinson, 12, seventh grader at Paragould Junior High School: Soybean Science Challenge Junior Division Award winner at Northeast Arkansas Regional Science Fair
    • $200 award; teacher Jennifer Langston won $100 Soybean Science Challenge Junior Division Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Zane Morris, 16, eighth grader at Genoa Central Junior High School in Texarkana: Soybean Science Challenge Junior Division Award winner at Ouachita Mountain Regional Science and Engineering Fair
    • $200 award; teacher Rita Martin won $100 Soybean Science Challenge Junior Division Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Hadley Panek, 13, eighth grader at St. Joseph Catholic School in Fayetteville: Soybean Science Challenge Junior Division Award winner at Northwest Arkansas Regional Science Fair
    • $200 award; teacher Erin Wragg won $100 Soybean Science Challenge Junior Division Teacher-Mentor Award
  • Aiden Watson, 14, eighth grader at Emerson High School: Soybean Science Challenge Senior Division Award winner at Southwest Arkansas STEM Night
    • $200 award; teacher Jessica Glass won $100 Soybean Science Challenge Junior Division Teacher-Mentor Award

For his project, Chen, the first-place winner of the 2024 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge, studied the impact of climate change on county level soybean yields. Chen said his project gave him a new appreciation for the role of agriculture in farming, science, technology, and more.

“Working on my project has absolutely given me a new perspective on agriculture and the agriculture industry,” Chen said. “It has shown me that agriculture is not just about farming, but it is about the scientists, engineers, and inventors who help find new ways to plan crops, make the machinery work, and come up with new irrigation methods for agriscience.

“Before this project, I had known about soybeans used in food, such as tofu or vegetable oil,” Chen said. “However, because of this project and the Soybean Science course, I learned about the variety of other uses that soybeans have in the various aspects of our daily lives.”

Tarsha Parker, Chen’s teacher, said her student benefitted from his project’s success in multiple ways.

“Bennet gained confidence and reassurance in his abilities to properly communicate his thoughts and findings about his project,” Parker said. “It also helped him to realize the importance of his research to make a difference in society. He beamed so much more after placing in the State Science Fair. He amazed himself.”

A Win for Teachers and Students

The Soybean Science Challenge program is co-sponsored by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, and it includes curriculum and other resources for science teachers. Diedre Young, Extension Soybean Science Challenge associate for the Division of Agriculture, said the program has helped show students the variety of careers available within the field of agriculture.

“I have seen the Soybean Science Challenge have a real impact for both students and teachers,” Young said. “We hear from teachers of more students choosing to pursue an agriculturally based degree in college due to our program, as they realize what a wide range of opportunities agriculture offers in a career. We have also noticed that if we can get students to do a project and move on to the State Science Fair, we have a greater chance of them going into the agricultural field.”

For teachers, the Soybean Science Challenge provides hands-on education that meets curriculum needs and keeps students engaged.

“Teachers love our resources because they are detailed, complete and free,” Young said. “Teachers often tell me how much they appreciate having this available for them to use in their classroom. Students love to dig in the dirt, and our resources allow teachers to let pupils do just that — while still learning the necessary science standards at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.”

For more information about the Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge, visit the Division of Agriculture’s Soybean Science Challenge webpage or contact Diedre Young at dyoung@uada.edu or 501-671-2301 or Keith Harris at kharris@uada.edu.


Rebekah Hall is a program specialist at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and may be reached at rkhall@uada.edu. 

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