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Harli Simmons – 2017 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge Award Winner Ouachita Mountains Regional Science & Engineering Fair

Harli Simmons, 16, a junior at Avilla Christian Academy in Alexander, AR won the Soybean Science Challenge at the 2017 Ouachita Mountains Regional Science & Engineering Fair at Mid-America Museum on February 24.

Simmons received a $300 cash award provided by the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board at the Awards Ceremony. Her science project titled “Expressoy” also won an “Outstanding” ranking in the Plant Science category and is eligible to compete for the $1,000 Soybean Science Challenge award at the state level.

Michelle Vire, Simmons’ science teacher, also won Soybean Science Challenge Teacher Mentor Award. “I decided to have my students enter the Soybean Science Challenge because this was a good way to incorporate current research-based learning into our community garden experience,” Vire said. Her students gained knowledge of agricultural practices to apply in their garden along with nutrition information and a better understanding of the role of agriculture in Arkansas.

Simmons found the experience of being the first Soybean Science Challenge winner at the new regional science and engineering fair to be very exhilarating. “The course and experiment both opened my eyes to the farming industry not only in Arkansas but also on a worldwide scale,” said Simmons. “It still isn’t real for me that I completed the Soybean Science Challenge online course and have a project that could be worth so much to many people.”

The part of the Soybean Science Challenge online course that Simmons found most appealing were all the videos of the farmers explaining the process of growing the soybeans. “It’s almost as if I were there with them, checking the crop and making sure everything is running smoothly,” said Simmons.

Before taking the Soybean Science Challenge online course, Simmons had little knowledge about soybeans. She had seen fields of soybeans while traveling with her father, but never paid any attention to them.

Teacher, Michelle Vire, on the other hand, was aware of the many uses of soybeans prior to her students’ participation in The Challenge; however, she was surprised at soybean farming’s economic impact on Arkansas.

Harli’s parents, Bryan Simmons and April Scheineman, were very proud of her for winning the Soybean Science Challenge award. “She worked hard and cared for her plants and was also very meticulous when collecting her data. The first thing she did when she came home from school was to tend to her project,” said her dad.

Harli looks for a “better mouse trap” and excels not only in her school activities but also in daily life adventures. She grew up in the country with a great curiosity for nature and now for soybeans. She plans to experiment with other factors that could impact the growth of soybeans in her next year’s science project.

Harli volunteers through her school with the Community Food Bank, spending two hours weekly to assist those less fortunate and participates in other volunteer projects as well. Harli’s dad said she is a rock star wherever she goes and that he is looking forward to seeing what she will accomplish next.

Vire said Harli has a knack for math and willingly tutors others. “She taught herself how to do the standard deviation for her science fair data and then shared her expertise with other students.” From Harli’s science fair project, Vire’s students learned that composting coffee grounds would be ill-advised. The caffeine appeared to have a negative impact on the growth of the soybean plants in her experiment. As a result, the school has amended the soil in their community garden plots to now exclude coffee grounds in the compost heap.

Harli is also Arkansas’ current Archery Champion, posting the highest state score ever recorded. At the recent National Archery Tournament, she placed 5th in the nation.

“The Soybean Science Challenge allows Arkansas senior-high students to participate in scientific discovery that can make a difference to our state and the world. Soybean farmers help feed the world, and Soybean Science Challenge students not only learn about this important commodity crop, they also develop an understanding of the challenges and complexity of modern farming,” said Dr. Karen Ballard, Extension developer and director of the program.

“The goal of the Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge is to engage students in “real world” education to support soybean production and agricultural sustainability,” said Gary Sitzer, chairman of the Arkansas Soybean Promotion Board. “The program also rewards scientific inquiry and discovery that supports the Arkansas soybean industry.”

The Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge was launched in January 2014 to 9-12 grade science students. Students who successfully completed the online course were eligible to have their original soybean-related research projects judged at the 2017 ISEF affiliated Arkansas science and engineering fairs.

Information on the 2017-18 Arkansas Soybean Science Challenge will be available in summer 2017. For more information, contact Dr. Karen Ballard at

The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.

Harli Simmons: Avilla Christian Academy – Michelle Vire, Teacher

Category: Plant Sciences

Project Title: “Espressoy”


Soybeans and caffeine are two completely different items. In this experiment, I decided
to put them together. Over the course of fifteen days, I cared for, fed, and measured 30 soybean plants. This experiment became more than just a science fair project for me in those fifteen days. I realized that the world population is on the rise and will be almost doubled by 2100. Already, people starve every day and some wonder where their next meal will come from. With the help of soybeans, people worldwide could be fed now and in the future. Using three gardening pots, 30 soybean seeds, caffeine tablets, and coffee powder, I began my journey. First, I planted ten soybean seeds in each of the three gardening pots. For the first five days, I watered each pot with 100ml of tap water only (to allow germination). After the plants were visible, I began my experiment. Each day after that (for ten days) I watered each plant pot per a label (water, coffee, or caffeine). All pots still got 100ml of water, but coffee powder and caffeine tablets were dissolved in that water for pots labeled ‘coffee’ and ‘caffeine.’ I carefully measured each plant daily and kept a record of their individual heights, and average heights of each pot’s ten plants. At the end of the ten days, the average height for the pot labeled water was 147mm. In comparison, the average height of the pot labeled ‘coffee’ was 82.3mm, proving my hypothesis correct.

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