Fun emerges from kids’ work at U Insect Fair

Nikki Wee

Monster-size mosquitoes, an oversize grasshopper and giant June bugs graced the stage of the North Star Ballroom as excitement and anxiety filled the room.

The St. Paul Student Center played host to 275 elementary and middle school students Saturday to present 130 insect projects the students created, as well as learn about insects.

Students shared projects they had worked on for months, and for some, years, with their fellow students and with University students, who served as interviewers for the fair.

Interviewer Adam Schumacher said it was funny to see how nervous all the young researchers were.

“The kids are all really, really nervous,” said Schumacher, a fisheries, wildlife and conservation biology senior. “Even if I try to break the ice, they’ll still be nervous about presenting their projects.”

Along with presenting their projects, students attended classes and took part in fun, hands-on activities to learn more about insects.

Classes and activities varied from learning about the life cycle of monarch butterflies to an insect carnival with a crawl-through mealworm.

“It’s a lot of fun to see the kids going to their sessions, being interviewed and being so nervous about it,” event coordinator Sarah Kempke said.

Kempke said the fair came as a result of wanting a venue to display what teachers have done in the classroom. The event has been growing steadily since its start.

Karen Oberhauser, a University professor in fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology, created the fair nine years ago as a result of courses she offered to teachers on using inquiry science in the classroom.

“This is the only time for me to see what is happening in the classroom,” she said.

While the event took a lot of planning and hard work, Oberhauser said it was worth it.

“It’s just really exciting for me just to see how the kids have really become experts,” Oberhauser said. “And it’s amazing to see that the parents have learned from the kids as well.”

This is the fourth year teacher and parent Laura Molenaar from New London, Wis., has brought her students to the University’s Insect Fair.

“It’s a great opportunity for our students to see the process of sharing their research with others,” she said. “It brings a sense of realness when they bring it to the University.”

Molenaar said the fair is also a celebration of a job well done. Her students chose to spend their summers researching a project and collecting data to come to the University to present it.

The fair acts as a culmination of all of their hard work. It also allows the students to share their project with students from other schools, she said.

“It’s a 2 1/2 hour drive from where we’re from to the University,” Molenaar said, “but it’s worth the trip.”

Oberhauser said she hopes the students will get a lot out of the event.

“I hope the kids will love science and that they can be scientists and find out things that no one knows,” she said.