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ASA at 175 - The International Science and Engineering Fair

By Ronald Wasserstein - May 8, 2014

The International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) will begin this weekend in Los Angeles, and as they have for more than 25 years, ASA members will be there to judge the statistical content of the projects. 

Involvement in ISEF is an outreach project of the ASA Council of Chapters—has been since 1987—thanks to the vision and effort of the late Joe Ward.ISEF is the world’s largest scientific competition, with more than 7 million high-school students around the world competing to land one of the approximately 1,600 coveted spots as a finalist. These spots are awarded to students who have advanced from local and regional fairs based on the quality of their projects.

To encourage excellence in statistics, the Council of Chapters offers a prize for the best use of statistics in a project. The project may be purely statistical or it may involve the intelligent use of statistical analyses or techniques in a subject-matter project. Prizes awarded for the best use of statistics are $1,500, $500, and $200 for first, second and third places, respectively, plus subscriptions to Significance and CHANCE magazines for each place-winner. 

The Council works with the local ASA chapter or chapters closest to the site of the fair to recruit judges. This year, the Southern California and Orange County/Long Beach chapters are preparing for the event under the leadership of Madeline Bauer. The Pittsburgh Chapter already is preparing for the 2015 ISEF that will be held in the Steel City. 

Projects are entered in 17 primary categories and a top prize is awarded in each category as well as several grand prizes. These categories include mathematics, physics, zoology, gerontology and environmental sciences, but statistics is not one of those primary divisions.

Since statistics is not a standalone category, the judges interested in assessing statistics use must perform at least a cursory initial screening of every project entered in the fair. This is a HUGE job. ASA local chapter members who have taken on this task in the past few years have done a thorough job identifying the projects that have statistical content. Typically, each year there are 50 to 100 projects in this category. Then those projects are looked at more carefully by the ASA members/judges for the quality of the applications of statistics.

Though I am not directly involved in ISEF, I have had the privilege of interacting with a Minnesota student named Tim Renier, who has strong interests in science and statistics. Tim is an ISEF finalist for the second time and he told me about his project titled,?"Hand Hygiene Gone Viral? A Study of Student Involvement in a Social Media Campaign as a Method of Bringing Hand Hygiene to the Masses."

Following is Tim’s project abstract:


?This study aimed to spread handhygiene information and promote behavior change throughout a school population and beyond through student development and sharing of a social media (SM) campaign utilizing Facebook and Twitter.


114 consented highschool students participated in an intervention (INT) group, which received education and created material for a SM campaign (SMC). INT assessments included hand washing effectiveness (HWE) and anonymous surveys (weeks 1, 7, and 12) about hand hygiene behaviors and SM. 308 control students (CON) took anonymous surveys (weeks 1 and 12) about hand hygiene behaviors, SM, and reception of the SMC (week 12). School-wide lunchroom hand sanitizer use (LHS) was covertly observed (weeks 1, 7, and 12). School-wide absenteeism due to illness was compared across time against an external control high school. Facebook Insights?was used to obtain information on Facebook viewership.


?INT had significant improvement (p<0.05) in HWE across time (McNemar’s test), hand washing before eating (Linear Regression), knowledge of how long to wash hands, and desire to improve hand hygiene (Logistic Regression). 30% of CON viewed the SMC. CON who viewed the SMC improved hand washing at school significantly more than CON who did not with INT reporting significantly greater improvement than CON. Significant pre-post SMC improvement in LHS occurred school-wide (t-test). The campaign was viewed on Facebook 13,292 times reaching 2806 people.


?The SMC had a significant impact on student hand hygiene and may be an effective method of communicating with and changing health behaviors among adolescents.

Congratulations to Tim and all ISEF competitors.

The ASA and the profession are indebted to the Council of Chapters and to the many members who have served as judges over the years. They are doing the important work of helping to promote the practice and profession of statistics among young people interested in science and energizing our future—a major objective of the ASA’s 175th anniversary celebration.

If you are interested in being an ISEF judge in the future, please contact Teri Utlaut (, ASA’s ISEF coordinator.

In 2014, the American Statistical Association is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Over the course of this year, this blog will highlight aspects of that celebration, and look broadly at the ASA and its activities. Please contact ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein ( if you would like to post an entry to this blog.


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