John Davis remembers taking a student to an international science fair years ago. The student never ended up going to college — “Because he was so bright, he didn’t have to,” Davis said.
“The last time I talked to him — this was a number of years ago — and he had a business partner. He had 48 percent of the business, and his partner had 52.”
That business partner’s name? Bill Gates.
“That’s the kind of kids you get. They are sharp, sharp kids,” said Davis, a retired teacher.
Davis, a Nashville resident, was the executive director of the Science Education Foundation of Indiana Inc. from 1988 to 2002. He had been with the organization since it was created in 1965.
Davis helped create the Indiana state science fair.
He hadn’t been back until this year.
The Oliver family invited him to attend with them as they cheered on son Abe Oliver and his project partner, Jadan Ercoli.
That duo won first place in the 10th-grade division at state. Next month, they’re going to the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
“This is like a kid going to the national spelling bee as a finalist or something like that. I don’t think a lot of people understand what these kids have put in,” Davis said.
Davis said he has noticed some changes at the state fair since his involvement. Among them are rules against animals being used in projects.
There’s also been a decrease in the number of scholarships awarded, he said. Each year, a $1,000 scholarship named in honor of Davis and his wife, Janet, is awarded. This year, Davis was able to hand it out himself.
An important change Davis noticed since his days observing high school projects is the standard of research required. Now, it’s at college level, he said.
“I think there’s been a real sophistication of the projects over the years, but yet they pretty well hang with what is taking place in science at the time,” he said.
The foundation created the Hoosier Science and Engineering Fair in 1988 as a way to give students more judging experience before heading off to the national stage, Davis said.
“Going to the international, we saw that the more the kids were judged, the better they did in the big fair,” he said.
Davis said he believes Ercoli, Oliver and senior Corina Greiner’s projects will be contenders at the Intel ISEF next month.
“I think they’ll do well, and it will be an experience that those kids will remember all of their lives because they meet other kids that are their caliber,” he said.