Creating ways to survive
Financially struggling LA County Science Fair comes to the Pasadena Convention Center
By Carl Kozlowsk 03/21/2013
From today through Saturday, the Pasadena Convention Center will play host to more than 1,200 students with scientific ambitions when the Los Angeles County Science Fair opens its 63rd annual exhibition.
But according to Dean Gilbert, the fair’s president and chief fundraiser for the past 13 years, a steep downturn in corporate donations has jeopardized the ability of the fair to continue past this year, threatening the collapse of the longest-running science fair in the nation.
“It would be a tragedy if we were shut down over the lack of money, and especially when we’ve improved the percentage of girls and minorities who participate during my 13 years here,” said Gilbert. “Plus, we’ve also reached out and welcomed the disabled and kids from the juvenile-court system who enter the fair and make significant strides when faced with a productive challenge.”
The fair is not only the oldest in the nation, but also the largest one in the Western states. Medals and cash prizes are bestowed at the county level and winners advance to the California State Science Fair, held at the California Science Center in LA’s Exposition Park on April 15-16. Additionally, six outstanding students will represent LA County at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, held May 12-17 in Phoenix.
Last year’s county fair winners were teams from the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Bravo Medical Magnet High School and Holy Trinity Elementary School in San Pedro. The complexity of these young scientists’ projects is reflected in the titles of their respective winning works, “Injectable Fetal Pacemaker” and “Do Sunglasses Sold at Retail Stores Harbor Microorganisms That are Resistant to Commonly Prescribed Ocular Antibiotics?”
Gilbert said that participation in science fairs is a vital element in inspiring new generations of scientists, who, in turn, fuel the development of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) systems.
He also noted that the fair costs up to $130,000 to produce each year, a figure that was not reached this year due to a confluence of factors.
“It’s not just one thing, as a lot of organizations that supported us for years and gave substantial contributions have had to cut back significantly due to the economy,” Gilbert explained. “One foundation moved out of California, so we lost their $25,000 donation, as they now donate in their new state. We used to get $10,000 from a textbook publisher, but that industry is doing terrible now.”
Gilbert’s goal is to establish an endowment fund for the fair, which would keep him and future fair presidents from worrying about its financial aspects. He is hoping to spread the word quickly. He is currently working for the Orange County Department of Education and is planning for this fair to be the last he supervises.
“The best scenario is for STEM–related corporations to invest in a fund of $10 million that we could invest and draw from in perpetuity for costs,” said Gilbert. “The other possible solution is to offer sponsorship naming rights to a company or companies that pay the annual costs of the fair. We’re open to any ideas that will save the fair.”
Those wishing to help sustain the LA County Science Fair may contact Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org. The fair is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Visit lascifair.org for more information.