Clemson Tests Young Scientists

The Greenville News
Friday, April 14, 2000
Section B, 1, 7


Exam intended to encourage young kids

By Anna Simon


CLEMSON – Sumter County eighth-graders Danielle Kusserow and Laura Oczepek rode a bus for four hours to take a test at Clemson University and said they're having the time of their lives.

"We get to go in a hotel and everything," said Kusserow, 14. "l haven't been on a college campus before, and I can be with my friends." More than 800 middle and high school students from across the state are at Clemson today for a Biology Merit Exam that recognized and encourages young scientists.

The idea behind the event is to strengthen the science background and training in the state, said Jim Zimmerman, a Clemson biochemistry professor.

That's why the test was created 20 years ago, and it has made a difference, said Barbara Speziale, a Clemson Extension Service associate professor in the department of biological sciences.

Helping out this year is a four year, $1.6 million award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute undergraduate biological sciences education program that will pay for the trip for 200 students whose schools would not have had the money to send them. It's particularly expensive for schools in the Pee Dee and Lowcountry because of the distance.

"This provides an opportunity for talented students who otherwise might not be able to take the exam to be recognized," said Jerry Waldvogel, associate professor of biology instruction and agricultural education at Clemson, who is coordinator of the effort.

For Clemson, the short-term benefit is a chance to introduce bright, talented South Carolina students to the Upstate campus so they will consider college here. In addition, it helps Clemson's effort to attract more minority students because it brings a diverse group from the other parts of the state.

The long-range benefit will be better- educated citizens who will have a deeper understanding of issues around them, such as water quality, Charleston harbor dredging and threats to endangered species, Zimmerman said.

After the Biology Merit Exam, the students may compete in a "Jeopardy"-style Biology Bowl to test their knowledge and skill under pressure.

While at Clemson, they learn more about the university, including the Genomics Institute, the Campbell Museum of Natural History, the electron microscopy laboratory, the South Carolina Botanical Garden and the Bob Campbell Geology Museum.

There's also information on programs available to minority students at Clemson.

Lori Smith, a science teacher at Hillcrest Middle in Sumter County, said her students couldn't have come without the Hughes award. Thirty of more than 500 students at the Pee Dee school made the trip, competing for a spot by writing letters, keeping scientific journals and doing research.

"Teachers use the trip itself as an incentive," Speziale said. "Not everyone gets to go. This is a special honor."

There is no pressure as far as a score on the test, although Kusserow confided that she was a little nervous about it. The trip is designed to be educational and enjoyable, Speziale said.

"When they get here they can see what will be required of them in college and it lets them see what is available on a college campus," Speziale said.