Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
Mar. 20, 1998

One for the students

by Tracy Griffin, News Service intern

Harold "Sande" McNabb, a university professor in plant pathology and forestry, always has enjoyed working with students inside and outside the classroom. He works with undergraduates and graduates in his laboratory and supervises student summer interns each year.

McNabb's contact with students reaches beyond Iowa State. He has helped many high school students prepare science projects and publish research papers. And for several years, he has been involved in what now is called the Iowa State Science and Technology Fair.

This is the second year the science fair has been held at ISU. Formerly it was the Hawkeye Science Fair, held each year in Des Moines. McNabb played an instrumental part in moving the science fair to Ames.

In 1995, he was contacted by a group of high school teachers and parents who were Iowa State alumni. The Hawkeye Science Fair had been losing support in Des Moines and they thought ISU was the ideal place to hold a science fair. McNabb proposed the idea to President Martin Jischke, who appointed a task force to study the possibility.

The task force worked closely with university relations staff to develop a proposal for the Hawkeye Science Fair's board of directors. The board agreed to let ISU take over the science fair and in 1997 it was moved to Hilton Coliseum. McNabb serves as the director of the science fair and chair of the board of directors.

"I did it for the young people," McNabb said. "It was terrific last year looking down (onto the floor of Hilton) and seeing all the projects."

He said this year's event (March 27-28) will be bigger than the previous year. More than 550 preliminary applications were submitted.

"This is a chance for students to work outside the school environment to learn what science can really do," McNabb said. "They come to college much better prepared for university work."

Iowa State and its college faculty have supported the science fair in some not-so-apparent ways, he said. Ames middle and high school students develop their projects with the guidance of ISU faculty members.

"I have a deep faith in the land-grant system, and I think we owe it to the people to get involved in this type of thing," he said.

McNabb said all faculty and staff members are encouraged to attend this year's exhibits and, if they have time, help judge entries.

"The youth in the state are the future," he said. "It's a chance to see some outstanding young students."

McNabb has been involved in high school and junior high science fairs for more than 20 years, judging competitions and working with students on projects. In 1991, a high school student he coached was selected as one of 40 finalists in the Westinghouse Talent Search competition.

McNabb decided at a young age what he wanted to do.

"Two people had a big impact on my life," he said.

As a fifth grader, he met G.B. McDonald, a forestry professor and department head at ISU, and decided then he would work with trees. He never met the second person who influenced his life, George Washington Carver, but read about him. He explained that Carver's teachings stressed service to others and value-added products from plants.

McNabb said he knew from the beginning of his career that he wanted to work with students. He started at ISU in 1953 on a research appointment. His appointment has never been more than 30 percent teaching, but McNabb said he always has tried to incorporate his research into his work with students.

"I told the university when I started that I would make teaching out of everything I did," he said.

Often teaching assistants lead laboratory work, but McNabb stays involved in the instruction of the laboratories that supplement his classes.

"I feel I should be with the students. We're the leaders of learning. We're there to help students find sources, make connections between different pieces of information and answer questions," he said.

McNabb said his and his wife's main goal always has been to work with youth. They have two grown children and have been involved in church youth groups, Boy Scouts and other youth organizations.

"It keeps me young," McNabb said. "We have interesting friends around the country and around the world because of all of the contacts we have with students."

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