Biology Merit Exam

DATE: 3-25-03

CONTACT: Barbara Speziale, (864) 656-1550

WRITER: Peter Kent, (864) 656-0937


CLEMSON -- Ready? Begin. Some 800 middle and high school students from across the state will participate in the 23rd Biology Merit Exam at Clemson University Friday, March 28.

The exam, created by Clemson biology faculty, is offered in divisions for beginning, intermediate and advanced students. Students are selected by their science teachers to take the exam that recognizes and encourages young scientists.

This year, 200 students whose schools could not otherwise offer them this experience are participating through an award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). The four-year $1.8 million grant was awarded to Clemson in 2002, and funds the SC LIFE project to enhance the teaching of biology in South Carolina middle and high schools. This is Clemson's second Howard Hughes Medical Institute award. The first provided $1.6 million from 1998-2002 to establish the SC LIFE project and related activities.

The goal of this SC LIFE-sponsored event is to provide students with the opportunity to participate in the Biology Merit Exam and to introduce them to the Clemson campus. Many of these students have never been on a college campus before, and some have never visited the Upstate.

"This is an opportunity for students to get a taste of what life is like on a college campus, and to perhaps help them set their sights on a goal of higher education in the sciences," said Jerry Waldvogel, associate professor of biology instruction at Clemson and exam coordinator.

A portion of the HHMI award will fund transportation costs and an overnight stay before the exam for students from schools from distant counties. Without HHMI funding, these students would be unable to participate in the Biology Merit Exam.

After the exam, the students may compete in the Biology Bowl, a "Jeopardy"-style competition to test their knowledge and skill under pressure, or visit points of interest at 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.

At a special seminar Thursday afternoon, participants in the HHMI/SCLIFE portion of the Biology Merit Exam will be introduced to various aspects of the college experience. Representatives from the admissions office, scholarship programs, the academic support center and pre-medical health advising will talk with the students about getting into college, being successful in the classroom and possible science careers beyond college.

The HHMI Undergraduate Biological Sciences Education Program awarded only 44 grants nationally, distributing $80 million in 2002. Clemson was selected for the award because the faculty proposed an innovative concept for engaging middle school students in life sciences, by teaching them about the world just outside their door, and a program for building upon that initial engagement with student opportunities throughout high school and into college.

Other activities funded by the HHMI award include sending Clemson biology professors to teach summer courses at the Governor's School for Science and Mathematics, bringing outstanding high school students to Clemson to conduct research, developing a middle school curriculum on the natural history of South Carolina, and involving middle and high school biology teachers in graduate courses and independent research with life sciences faculty at Clemson University.



Students, teachers and chaperones arrive at Clemson University Thursday afternoon, March 27, for a special seminar (2-4 p.m.) in Self Auditorium at the Strom Thurmond Institute.

Students from the following schools will participate in the 2003 Biology Merit Exam and associated activities through the HHMI award:

Participating Schools and Hometown
Carvers Bay HS - Hemingway
Garrett Academy - Charleston
Lee Central HS - Bishopville
Marlboro County HS - Bennettsville
McNair MS - Lake City
Myrtle Beach HS - Myrtle Beach
St. John's HS - John's Island
West Ashley HS - Charleston

The Merit Exam begins at 10:15 a.m. Friday in Tillman Hall auditorium. Afterwards, students are free to tour the campus or participate in the Biology Bowl competition in Vickery Hall from 1:30-4 p.m.