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Way to go, Faris!

SANTA FE, N.M. — It’s been a good week for science in Santa Fe.

The state Public Education Department backed off its silly alterations of the Next Generation Science Standards that would have omitted mention of evolution, climate change and the actual 4.6 billion-year age of Earth, and adopted the standards in their entirety.

Then, a 15-year-old Santa Fe Public Schools student took the prize in a prestigious national science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) competition for middle-schoolers.

Faris Wald, 15 – who was attending Capshaw Middle School when he entered the 7th annual Broadcom MASTERS contest and now is a freshman at Santa Fe High – took home the $25,000 top prize, beating out 2,500 kids who entered. The competition is sponsored by the Broadcom Foundation and the Society for Science & the Public.

Wald is something of a weather aficionado, and says television documentaries about storms and the sun inspired his award-winning project. He was able to show a correlation between solar coronal holes – parts of the plasma around the sun that extend outward into space – and cyclones on Earth.

But his science fair-style project on those findings was only part of why he won the big prize. The competition included being part of team exercises where students were scored on critical thinking, leadership, communication, creativity and collaboration skills.

He was part of a project to build an autonomous underwater vehicle to collect sediment. The idea was to show how he could engage with others and lead an effort to reach a science engineering goal.

Apparently, none of the 30 finalists gathered in Washington, D.C., could match up with Faris Wald’s combination of smarts and leadership – pretty impressive.

So, congratulations are in order. Great job, Faris.

Debate will continue on how to improve New Mexico’s school system. The rankings and statistics for education in Santa Fe and New Mexico often aren’t encouraging. The PED has shown that those at the top can mess up when it comes to knowing how to support science education.

But young Mr. Wald’s success shows there are always rays of good news and people doing good things out there, despite our propensity to focus on negative.