Festival Celebrates a Decade of Splendid Science

With a crash, bang, and boom, the Highland Park High School Science Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary on Nov. 19 with another lineup of more than 40 STEM professionals coming to talk during science and technology classes.

“I’m just so pleased,” said festival founder Marie McCoy. “I had no idea it would last this long.”

In 2006, McCoy’s son Ian was a senior and interested in science. As a chemical engineer, she noticed that there were so few good, accessible role models for anyone contemplating STEM careers. Instead there were stereotypes that didn’t match up with her own career experiences.

“They’re either the weird scientist or they’re the crazy one, or Superman or something that’s going to destroy the world,” she said.

Under the direction of Roseanne Leediker, chair of the HPHS science department, and with guidance from organizers of the Highland Park Literary Festival, McCoy and a group of mothers came together to create a festival that would encourage students to take more STEM classes and consider STEM careers.

“There are professions out there in the future that we don’t even know about yet,” McCoy said. “But if you’ve got those good strong foundations of science and math, you’re going to be ready for the future.”

In the past 10 years, the number of science and technology classes at the high school has grown as state requirements have increased, and so has interest in the festival, said president Elizabeth Showalter. In 2012, 2,500 students participated, up from 1,250 in 2006.

Students can go to hpscifest.com to preview the list of more than 100 presentations and register Nov. 2-10. Speakers come from such varied places as UT Southwestern, SMU, Texas Instruments, the Dallas Children’s Theater, and PepsiCo.

Audrey Thompson Burks, a 2008 HPHS grad and an engineer for Pioneer Natural Resources with a degree in petroleum engineering from Texas A&M, attended the festival as a student and now speaks at the festival. She said she wasn’t expecting students to be as engaged as they were her first year.

“And that’s really what’s pushed me to coming back every year,” she said.

Burks said that the students’ inquisitive questions reminded her of the passion the school and the teachers have for the sciences and what impact that had made on her own career choice.

In high school, she was considering a career in business before taking a chemistry class as a sophomore.

“I took basic chemistry; I didn’t take Pre-AP, AP, anything like that,” she said. “And I found that I was good at it and that I really had a passion for it.”

And that changed her life. Burks said she now relishes being a role model for women in the sciences.

“Just knowing that the science festival gives an avenue for that, for people to see the options out there and the places they can fit in regardless of gender or anything else, I think that’s really good … and something the science festival does well,” she said.

This story appears in the November issue of Park Cities People, on stands now.

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