The Recipe to Winning a Science Fair

At the beginning of the school year if someone would have told Mahogany Anderson that she would win the National Society of Black Engineers Regional Science Fair she would have laughed.

But on Nov. 15, 2009 she won, and this month she will travel to Canada to compete at the next level.

As a junior at Central Technical High School, Anderson is specializing in culinary arts. She is passionate about cooking and enjoys preparing all types of food. In the future, she plans on being a chef and maybe owning her own restaurant.

“I don’t plan on taking a break after I finish high school. I am planning on going directly to the Florida Culinary Institute or Le Cordon Bleu in Las Vegas,” she said.

As part of the curriculum at Central Technical High School all students are required to participate in robotics, try-math-a-lon or the science fair.

At first, Anderson expected to join the female robotics team, but she was too late. All positions had been filled, which left her with the little options.

Reluctantly, with a little encouragement from teachers like Gwendolyn Raeford of Fowler High School, she decided to participate in the science fair.

“I was just there for support,” Raeford said. “Mahogany did everything on her own, she is a very self-motivated and an intelligent young woman.”

Instead of finding a project online, as many students do, Anderson decided she wanted to do something unique. Combining her interest for the environment, and with a little help from her mentors, she contrived to research the effects of acid rain on osteoporosis.

Like a recipe, her experiment required very detailed instructions.

“There are a lot of similarities between science and culinary, especially pastry,” Anderson explained. “There are many different reactants, and there is a lot of math in both.”

Instead of baking chicken, she wrapped two bones in plastic, coated it with vegetable oil and poked holes to emulate skin and pores. She then dribbled a mixture of water and vinegar over the bones every four hours for four days. When the bones were unwrapped, she discovered that there was unmistakable bone loss.

“I found that acid deprecation does affect peoples’ bone mass.” Anderson said. “This is important because we are all exposed to it.”

Performing the experiment was only a fraction of the work that Anderson put in to her project. She spent hours toiling over medical magazines and academic journals, writing a seven-page research paper, attending National Society of Black Engineers workshops and designing a poster board to display her research at the science fair.

“There were a lot of times when I woke up in the morning and told my mom, I am not going to NSBE,” she said.

She never gave up.

The day before the science fair Anderson walked to school early to catch the bus to Rochester. The addition of her poster board and suitcase made the hour trek more grueling than usual on the cold November day.

Along the way she dropped her poster board, which increased her dissatisfaction of the display. Previously, she thought her board looked a little cluttered but now it was tattered.

The next day, Anderson arrived to the competition late. She and a few classmates had to wander around for almost an hour looking for the conference room.

She was nervous. All her work led up to this moment, and she did not know if she would be penalized for her tardiness.

Quickly, she set up her display and began to present her project to anonymous judges and visitors. Although she lacked confidence in her poster board, she knew what she was talking about and she spoke with confidence.

Winners were announced at the evening banquet. When the names of the runner-ups were announced, Anderson felt disappointed she did not place.

“I didn’t think I was going to win,” she said. “When they called my name for first place, I was so shocked; I looked at my name-tag to see if it was really me. The feeling was indescribable”

After collecting her award, Anderson called her mother.

“I was overjoyed,” said her mother, Stephanie Anderson. “I always knew she had it in her. I was so proud that I went to church and told everyone the good news.”

Overwhelmed with emotion, tears filled the eyes of mother and daughter as they talked on the phone.

“This was the first time I started something and finished. I felt very accomplished,” Mahogany said.

Winning the NSBE Regional Science Fair has qualified Mahogany Anderson to attend nationals in Toronto, Canada in March.

“I am so scared for nationals; there will be a lot of competition,” she said. “But I am going to go and compete, and I will try my best.”