ACSEF Going Virtual for 2021 School Year: What it Means and How it Will Work

ACSEF, or the Alameda County Science and Engineering Fair, has become routinely one of the many extracurricular opportunities for students in Alameda County who are interested in STEM and research. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this event has been forced to operate virtually. Here is a quick guide to navigating ACSEF 2021, changes made, and how it will work!

In previous years, presentations and demonstrations of the participants’ respective projects would take place at the Alameda County Fairgrounds with judging happening in real time. Sadly, the recent situation has prompted the organization to move all parts of the competition to a virtual atmosphere. “The three biggest new items taking place this year other than it is virtual are: 1. Students will determine if their project is in the Early group or the Regular group by responding to 8 statements. 2. All student projects must submit a project proposal to ASCEF in order to be eligible. 3. The number and types of items that students must submit to our registration site in order for ACSEF to produce the virtual display of items that are normally sitting upon a table for the judging purposes,” Patti Carothers, director and founder of the ACSEF, explains. Along with these changes, high school students must submit a Youtube video summarization and demonstration of their project. 

Because the fair will be completely online, it is even more challenging to find ideas and start brainstorming for a project. Although there are many ways to digitally research issues and formulate technology-related projects, in person lab work and traditional science experiments are harder to execute. Addressing this issue, Carothers suggests, “Most new things are piggybacking on things that have already been done.  So our mantra to students is to look at what has been done in the abstract and ask yourself – what questions come to your mind after reading the abstract?” She continues on by saying, “We fully expect to find more projects in the areas of engineering, app creation, [and] data science looking at open source data in a topic area and crunching data”.

After determining their group type, participants must submit a proposal for their project and can only start working after it has been approved by the ASCEF.  They will receive paperwork to fill out and once signed up, they can begin working on their projects. For the judging process, each participant will wait in a virtual room until a judge joins. Then, they will be given a fixed amount of time to present and demonstrate their projects. The judges will determine if the participants will move onto the next round based on their uploaded documents and demonstrations, as well their online performance. There will be a total of two rounds and an announcement of the awards, which will take place live and online. 

In order to sign up for the ASCEF, participants must submit their project proposal to the ASCEF via a Google Form. The 2020-2021 ASCEF handbook along with a complete list of new items added can be found here. Items necessary for this submission are further detailed in the link here and can be found on their website as well. After getting approval, they must fill out paperwork sent by the ASCEF and send it in. If they filled everything out correctly, they will receive a private link to sign up along with a registration guide. These steps must be completed no later than November 15, 2020 for the Early group and January 30, 2021 for the Regular group. The last day for both groups to work on their projects is February 22, 2021 and the first round starts on March 6, 2021. Each participant will receive a maximum of 15 minutes to present their project and judges will make their decision accordingly. On March 7, 2021 at 6:00 PM, judges will post their decisions on who will advance to the second round at Round two will be on Saturday, March 13, 2021 and has the same judging rules as round one. The awards will be announced on Saturday, March 20, 2021 with a live meeting. Those who make it to the Advanced Competitions must attend a mandatory ZOOM meeting on Tuesday, March 23, 2021.