Middle and high school students from throughout Southwest Florida, whether they were from private, public or home schools, competed for more than $900,000 in scholarship money, including 30 four-year rides, at the 57th annual Thomas Alva Edison Kiwanis Science and Engineering Fair at the Harborside Convention Center.
The fair, which is one of the largest science fairs in Florida, is a signature event of the Edison Festival of Light festivities, and this year students presented more than 400 science projects and 300 inventions.
Area students earned their fair share of the prizes and scholarships, with Derrick Robles of North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts and Tryston Wipf of Island Coast High School being named among the eight Grand Award winners.
Each will receive a four-year scholarship for college.
The winners were selected by judges on the basis of their research, backboard, and oral defense of their research.
Winning a state or regional fair is always a big deal, but in Florida, it takes on a larger meaning, with all the competition.
"It's a major stepping stone for these kids to bigger competition," said Rick Tully, professional development resource teacher for the Lee County School System. "Florida has the largest contingent of all 50 states at the international science fair, about 8 to 9 percent."
For those who won the regional competition, it was more than a stepping stone, but a ticket to college. Florida Gulf Coast University handed out 30 four-year academic scholarships, Tully said.
Hodges University and Edison State College, among others, also contributed scholarships.
"It offers more scholarships than any other regional fair in the state, and more than the state of Florida offers," Tully said. "It approaches a quarter of all the scholarships offered in international competition. It's really significant."
The Grand Award winners from the regional competition have been invited to compete in the state and international competitions, where additional scholarships are available. The Florida State Science and Engineering takes place April 8-10 at the Lakeland Civic Center.
The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, for high-schoolers only, comes after that for those who make it that far.
Most important, each Grand Award winner will receive a four-year academic scholarship to Florida Gulf Coast University.
There were also numerous Summer Research Opportunity winners, and they will attend an SRO at Florida Gulf Coast University this summer.
Those winners, all sixth- through eighth-graders, include Alexa Lowman from North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts, who won first place and Best in Fair, Bree Trepkowski and Christian Miller of Trafalgar Middle School, with Trepkowski earning an FGCU scholarship, and Kira Cambio of Mariner Middle School.