Winning science fair project demonstrated and developed skills employers want – and earned great prizes!

The amount of waste produced by Northland’s largest staff cafeteria has been drastically reduced, thanks to a Royal Society ‘Realise the Dream’-winning science fair project run by two 13 year olds. In the process they learned a lot more about science and developed some new skills, which they can put into great use in the future.

Seeing rubbish motivated Kahurangi and Daniel

Two boys wearing protective clothing, bending over sorting rubbish

Daniel and Kahurangi sorting rubbish from the cafeteria

When Kahurangi Ross-Hoskins and Daniel Davis saw some of the 4,000-plus bags of rubbish thrown away annually by Whangarei Hospital’s cafeteria, they decided to do something about it.

Their project, Saving Northland One Meal At a Time, saw them giving up holidays and weekends as they gained permission from the CEO, met with cafeteria management, surveyed staff and clients, and did a literature search of documents including the New Zealand Waste Strategy, the Whangarei District Council’s Waste Management Plan and the cafeteria contractor’s own Sustainability Policy.

Although they only had six weeks to do the project, they never felt like giving up, says Kahurangi. “To be a scientist, you’ve got to be committed to getting things done. It does take a lot of time to get things done right. It did feel a bit stressful but we couldn’t really consider stopping.”

Building communication skills and confidence

More of a challenge was learning new skills and getting the confidence to approach the hospital management.

Daniel remembers, “Mum would say ‘Write an email’, so I’d be sitting in front of the computer  –  wondering how to write an email.”

“A lot of it was we didn’t hold ourselves in high esteem. We were school kids, who will listen to us? Also getting past that ‘What am I going to say?’ stage”.

But their professional approach spoke for itself, and they got a warm reception from everyone they approached. “We found they were really helpful and keen to take our advice.”

Polystyrene made up half the waste

The boys reported that over half the rubbish was polystyrene, and listed alternatives and their costs and environmental impacts. Their project led to the cafeteria switching to crockery plates and metal implements, and introducing recycling bins. These moves should cut down the volume of landfill rubbish by at least half.

Upskilling in presentation, prizes, and meeting the Governor-General

Part of their Realise the Dream prize saw them touring the North Island visiting science institutions. As the winners are expected to talk to school assemblies when they return home, the participants were trained in how to stand, to project their voices – and how to prepare presentations.

“And of course there is the money and prizes we won. At the regional competition we won several prizes plus medals and certificates at the national competition. We won an overall cash prize of $700 each, with $200 each from the regional science fair and $500 from the national competition.

“Also we went to Government House where the Governor-General lives for the award ceremony.”

Skills that came from the science fair and Realise the Dream

Many of the skills the boys honed and learned during their project can be put to use in their future career – they are transferable skills employers want. 

  • Communication: Employers are always looking for people with great communication skills. Public speaking skills and learning how to craft a great presentation are important both at higher levels of education and in the workplace.
  • Initiative: Daniel and Kahurangi found out that people are often willing to listen to you and give you a chance if you ask. Whether you want to launch a new project at work, or ask for support in your job hunt, speaking up for yourself and your ideas is an important skill.
  • Working in a team: The boys took a team approach to the whole project, which shows future employers that they are able to get along with a range of people, work with them and encourage them to make changes.
  • Problem-solving: Anyone could have looked at the waste and thought “Someone should do something about it,” but Kahurangi and Daniel worked out what should be done, and systematically worked through a process of research, interviews and recommendations, showing they can come up with solutions, not just identify problems – music to employers’ ears.
  • Good work habits: This project shows the boys had stickability and were prepared to see something through to the end. Again, something employers want. Their project shows that these boys won’t need someone hovering over them checking their work.

Read about how their science fair experience influenced Daniel and Kahurangi’s future career plans.

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