Inside Aera
Featured, Aera in the Community Apr 13, 2022

Learning through real-life challenges

Kern County students excel at virtual county science fair

It was another year of last-minute adjustments for local students competing in this year’s Kern County Science Fair.

Thousands of students spent months preparing to compete in the Kern County Science Fair, in-person this year. About 360 of those students in the fourth through 12th grades, moved on to the next phase of competition eagerly looking forward to what they thought would be an in-person county science fair, only to present their projects virtually.

Disappointing yes, but coordinators see it as a learning experience for all.

“Things in the working world change at the last minute,” said Matt Kedzierski, Aera data scientist, science fair judge, and past president of the Kern County Science Foundation. “Learning to present material in person, and online in a way that others can understand and follow is experience they will need in the future as workplaces continue to adopt to remote- or hybrid-work environments.”

Alor Sahoo, a senior at Stockdale High School, will be one of two students representing Kern County in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in May

Kedzierski said students did exceptionally well adjusting to the changes. Stockdale High School sophomore Harjaisal Brar and senior Alor Sahoo will represent Kern County in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair in Atlanta, Georgia in May. Brar’s project took the first-place award in the biomedical engineering category, and Sahoo’s project took the top spot in the chemistry category.

Sahoo’s project also received the Aera award, which comes with a $2,000 scholarship from Aera Energy. Sahoo’s “green chemistry” project uses the detergent (TPGS-750-M) to “optimize a specific chemical reaction to isoxazolines, a class of industrially important chemicals.” He was able to reduce the amount of waste produced by using that detergent over traditional solvents.

“Even though it was online, one thing I always love about the science fair is being able to share my cumulative efforts with the judges and others and celebrating all of the progress we’ve made,” Sahoo said of his experience. “I also found the questions asked to be thought-provoking.”

Nearly 30 Aera Energy employees pitched in to help judge multiple rounds of the virtual competitions. Aera also sponsored awards that went to this year’s top-performing schools — Ridgeview and Stockdale high schools, and St. Francis Parish School.

“It’s important for us as judges to continue helping these students along in their journey and make them feel good about their projects. Hopefully next year we will be back to an in-person science fair,” Kedzierski said, adding that participation is still down for the event that typically draws 600 students.

Sahoo will be making an important decision on where to go to college over the next few months after receiving acceptance letters from multiple universities. He plans to major in chemistry or chemical engineering. He loves chemistry, computer science, and creative writing — and what he calls the intersection of all three.

Peter Ashton, vice president of technical at Aera Energy, closed out the event by sharing the importance of science fairs, and how skills developed through the projects can help students in the long run.

“Like you all have done with your projects, we consider problems or questions and apply scientific processes to find answers or solutions to learn more about the world through science, technology, engineering and math,” Ashton told the students. “We apply our STEM knowledge to what we do every day, as we work hard to produce the energy to fuel the needs of California now in our everyday lives, and in the future.”

DID YOU KNOW? Aera Energy is a three-time recipient of the Forbes America’s Midsize Employer List, placing ninth in the 2022 ranking and securing its spot in the top ten midsize companies to work for in the United States.

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