Siemens Foundation announces competition end, channels funds into new opportunities


Katherine Zhang

Manan Shah (’17), a national finalist in the 2016 Siemens Competition, gives a talk at the 2017 Research Symposium. Shah was Harker’s only national finalist that year.

by Derek Yen, Opinion Editor

The Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology has concluded after 19 years with its 2017 Competition, the Siemens Foundation stated in a news release on Feb 1.

As of the time of writing, there are currently no plans for the competition to be picked up by another sponsor, as occurred when Regeneron announced it would be sponsoring the Regeneron Science Talent Search (formerly known as the Intel Science Talent Search) after Intel ended its support of the competition in 2016.

Harker has had a long history with the Siemens Competition. The school has placed at least four semi finalists every year since 2009, and at least 10 semi finalists every year since 2013.

“I was really surprised, because Siemens has just been a thing you hear about every year,” 2017 Siemens Competition finalist Katherine “Kat” Tian (11) said. “The experience at Nationals was pretty amazing, and to hear that no other student would experience that this year was pretty sad. Instead of being one person among the ones that will come before you and after you, there’s no one after—we’re the last group—which is a little poignant, in a way.”

The decision to end the Siemens Competition program was unanimously made by the board

Instead of being one person among the ones that will come before you and after you, there’s no one after—we’re the last group.

— Katherine Tian (11), Siemens National Finalist

of the Siemens Foundation, the organization that funds the competition. The Siemens Foundation has yet to finalize plans on what the new funding will be allocated towards but is currently discussing support for “middle skill” STEM programs.

“We are looking at opportunities in the STEM middle skill (jobs that require a high school diploma, strong technical skills, and some post-secondary education but not a four year degree),” Siemens Foundation CEO David Etzwiler wrote in an email correspondence. “We think that area is the place where our investments and expertise can best benefit society.”

As the Siemens Competition is one of the major science research competitions for high school  students, this decision has disrupted some students’ summer plans.

“If not being able to do Siemens causes you to question whether you really want to do a project, then follow that instinct and don’t do a project,” research class and physics teacher Chris Spenner said. “If you’re excited about doing the science, then do the science and, if you need something to replace Siemens, look at actual science conferences that are willing to share your work. If you have an internship with a supportive mentor, they will help you find a conference where you can share your work and get a more real science experience.”

Etzwiler recognized that many students who were planning to compete in the Siemens Competition will be unable to.

“We wish you the best. We know we are not the only science competition out there. And we know that we are not the only revenue source for young scientific innovators today,” Etzwiler wrote. “We encourage you to continue your engagement in challenge-based research competitions. There are a lot of great programs out there that reward and recognize talented high school students pursuing STEM research.”

According to its website, the Siemens Competition was “established [in 1999] to increase access to higher education for students who are gifted in STEM [. . . and] to recognize and build a strong pipeline for the nation’s most promising scientists, engineers and mathematicians.”

Reflecting upon the competition, Etzwiler believes that it has met this goal.

“We believe the Siemens Competition (and others like it) provided a great venue to rally students around science research every year,” Etzwiler wrote. “With the exception of one or two years, we saw participation levels increase each year, and every year we saw new schools and areas of the country that had never been represented before. (Of course, excellent programs such as those at the Harker School, were always well-represented as well!) We’re also really proud of our efforts to attract young women to the Competition. Nearly half, 48%, of applicants to the Competition [in 2017] were young women.”

Etzwiler thanked all the student researchers who participated in the Siemens Competition over the years.

“Thank you for helping us make scientific research cool again. Whether or not your project won a monetary award, the great research and thought that each of you brought to your projects served as real inspiration and motivation for new students every year. Importantly, you helped us build a path for high school students to be part of our nation’s innovation pipeline, and we believe that pipeline continues today.”

This piece was originally published in the pages of The Winged Post on March 6, 2018.