In the summer of 2000, two Westport community members, Paul Heilman and William Foster, recognized they shared an interest in promoting the study of science and engineering by high school students. Heilman, a graduate of MIT, told Foster, a Captain at Delta Airlines, that he believed his engineering training had provided him with effective, life-long tools for problem-solving through the ‘scientific way of thinking’ and that he had a desire to share his enthusiasm with today’s students.
Foster proposed starting a local foundation that could sponsor annual events, including a science fair, to support area students’ growth as scientific thinkers. Foster approached Dr. Harry Rosvally, the then-newly-hired Chairman of the Science Department at Westport’s Staples High School. Dr. Rosvally was enthusiastic about the project from the start and became its biggest champion and, later, a Board member of the Foundation. Shortly thereafter, Richard Gardella, a Mobil Oil engineer with extensive contacts in the engineering community, joined the group. In 2001, the Westport Science & Engineering Foundation, Inc., was created as a section 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. In 2007, the Foundation changed its name to the Southern Connecticut Science & Engineering Foundation, Inc., reflecting its growth in the state.
- CTSTEM’s Milestones. Since its founding, CTSTEM has promoted and presented many programs and has grown tremendously in reach and impact. Among its milestones are:
- Launched the Westport Science & Engineering Fair in 2001 and has sponsored the event every year since. The Fair is now called the Southern Connecticut Invitational Science & Engineering Fair.
- Awarded medals to three students in 2001 and six students in 2002. Since 2003, nine students receive medals each year.
- In 2003, began providing funds for student projects.
- Oversaw the growth of SCISEF from eight Westport-only students to more than 120 students from all over southern Connecticut. At the same time, the number of judges has expanded from 10 local judges to over 80 judges from businesses, academia, and the local scientific community.
- Sponsored inspirational events for students that helped them see the practical applications of science. These events included a field trip to Pratt & Whitney’s aircraft engine manufacturing facilities, a seminar on physics using an actual Le Mans race car, and a presentation by a citizen-astronaut.
Into the Future.
- CTSTEM sees a tremendous continuing need for community, business, and government support for education in the sciences and engineering. Therefore, CTSTEM is expanding its work into the following areas:
- Broadening the scope of SCISEF geographically by inviting students from high schools throughout Southern Connecticut.
- Expanding the science fair concept into middle schools.
- Enabling SCISEF’s top achievers to compete in national and international science fairs by affiliating with the Intel-sponsored International Science & Engineering Fair (ISEF).
- Providing scholarships and grants to gifted science students to help them financially when competing in national and international science fairs, and to help them obtain the assistance they need to be effective competitors.