Sussex County Girl Participates in White House Science Fair

Mikayla Ockels’ agricultural experiment caught the eye of Washington, D.C. officials.

Mikayla Ockels was with her parents when she received a call. The voice on the other end was a representative for the Delaware BioGENEius Award she had won for a science experiment she demonstrated at the Sussex County Science Fair.

The experiment, a calculation of feed-to-egg conversion rates among different breeds of hens in a pasture-raised environment, had won the competition. But the biggest prize was yet to come, as she was invited to the White House for the annual White House Science Fair on April 13.

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“I was with my parents when it happened, and I think that we were all just really excited—it sounded like a great opportunity,” Ockels says. She has been competing in science fairs since fifth grade.

Ockels, a 17-year-old senior at Sussex Central High School, says she was selected after winning the international Practical Impact Award at the U.S. National BioGENEius Challenge. White House officials selected her project after her advisers submitted it.

“I was excited,” she says. “It wasn’t a competition, so I had the opportunity to relax and enjoy myself and walk around the White House and check it out.”

Ockels says her display was outdoors in one of the White House gardens. While she wasn’t picked to fully explain her project to President Barack Obama, he did give a speech and left a good impression on her and the other students.

“He was just really nice and personable,” she says. “He explained his passion for science and why the work that we are doing is so important.”

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Obama started the White House Science Fair in 2010, and it appears this will be the last one, as his time in office comes to a close next year.

In addition to her agricultural science experiments, Ockels operates three businesses, including one for beekeeping; one for breeding, training and showing goats; and one for pasture-raising hens. She started the chicken business when she first got them at 10 years old, and began the others in the years following.

The companies keep her “very busy,” she says. She also plays sports for Sussex Central, and is considering attending either the University of Delaware or Colorado State University, after being accepted to both with a pre-veterinarian major. She isn’t sure whether she wants to be a veterinarian, but both colleges also have strong agricultural programs.

Ockels says one of her favorite parts of the experience was meeting Bill Nye. Unlike her experience with the president, Ockels was able to explain her project to “the Science Guy.”

“He said that it sounded like a great idea and things like that, and that it’s important to be interested in agriculture,” she says. “He was really nice. We always watched his videos in my middle school science class, so it was really sweet to actually meet him in person.”

Mikayla Ockels explained her award-winning science
experiment to Bill Nye. // Courtesy of Cindy Ockels

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