When I departed for college my grandmother told me to join the debate team, because I was always arguing trying to prove a point. She was correct. I was a chatty Cathy and was always defending advocating my positions. Debating was the most exhilarating intellectual experience I had had until that time. It was a competitive scene where students engaged in verbal, analytical and logical combat. Now, many years later, I still use those same skills: intensive literature research, narrative formation, pro- and counter-arguments, critiques, technicalities, gaps in logic or linearity, quick-thinking-fast-talking, revision, trial-and-error, and persuasion in science. Developing hypotheses, designing experiments, and handling the constant wave of criticism from professors/colleagues/reviewers/editors isn't very different than Cross-Examination Debate.

Every now and then I still sign up to judge high school debate conferences. I get really energized seeing young people exercising their intellect. I get a similar feeling of excitement and hypeness when I judge science fair competitions. Spring time is Science Fair time, and few things make me happier than seeing young folks full of enthusiasm sharing their awesome independent research ideas.

As parents, educators and adult influencers in children's lives, there are several ways to engage youth in science, not the least of which is via independent research. Independent research, whether assisting a scientist with an ongoing project or derived solely by the student to solve a local problem, really gets to the heart of what science and the scientific process is all about. I really encourage students doing independent projects - no matter how simple they think they are - to submit their work to a local science competition, like your school or regional science fair or for service learning credit, or BOTH! You're doing the work, get as much mileage out of it as you can. You're demonstrating drive, ambition, time-management, creativity, and innovation. Isn't that what your teachers and parents are always telling you to be?

So for the middle-school set, here's a science scholarship competition just for them.

3M - the company that brought us Post-it® Notes (Ok, ok, I'm a big fangirl of all things stationery and sticky-notes, but the point I'm trying to make is that 3M is all about innovation blending science, tech, engineering and creativity to solve real-world problems to make life easier). 3M with Discovery Education wants to foster the next generation of scientists with this Young Scientist Challenge.

Students, in grades 5-8, create a 1-2 minute video describing a new, innovative solution that could solve an everyday problem. The deadline to submit your video is Tuesday, April 22, 2014.

Ten finalists will be chosen for their passion for science, spirit of innovation and ingenuity, and effective communication skills. These 10 finalists will get a special summer science mentorship-internship where you are paired with a 3M scientist who will serve as your mentor and help you create your proposed solution. (I'm doing cartwheels now. Isn't this AWESOME?!!!)

The Final Competition is in October at the 3M Innovation Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. Details here.

So many awesome prizes are awarded: Merit winners from each state get a Prize Pack, All of the Finalists get $1000 plus a trip to final competition to Minnesota, plus the honorable mentions and runner ups get additional money and/or travel prize so it is so worth competing. And the Grand Prize is $25,000!!

And I really, really want to see kids from historically under-served and traditionally under-represented groups participating. Despite comprising 28% of the US population, Blacks and Latinos account for only 7% of the STEM workforce. Let's spread the word and encourage more kids to participate in these competitions. I want to see little mini-mes on the roster this year! Let's do it!

Parents, you'll need to sign the consent form and help your student set up an account and password. Link here. But no worries if you still have questions. There's an online Q&A tonight, Tuesday, April 8 on Twitter - #STEMchat from 9-10 pm EST where we will discuss How to Raise America's Top Young Scientist!

* This post is sponsored by the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge