Professors coach local students in Science Olympics

April 16, 2013

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Dr. Joseph Wu works with Platteville Middle School students Elizabeth Roberts (left) and Eleanor Clement.

 

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Six years ago Barb Barnet, professor of statistics and chair of the mathematics department at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, was coaching a Platteville Middle School Science Olympics team when she realized that several teams of Olympians were without coaches. Barnet began asking other faculty members at UW-Platteville to volunteer.

“Now we have about a dozen professors on campus who coach,” said Barnet.  “Some coach more than one team.”

Roy Cornett (left), a Platteville Middle School student and Vivian Li, a Platteville High School student, worked with Dr. Charles Cornett.

 

The role of the coaches varies between events, which range from pen-and-paper testing to lab work to miniature engineering projects. In every case, however, it is the responsibility of the coaches to know the rules of the competitions and to teach their team members advanced scientific concepts.

“It’s rigorous work that these students do,” said Barnet. “The middle school teams usually learn high-school-level information, and high school teams generally work with college-level information.”

Eighth-grader Eleanor Clement and seventh-grader Elizabeth Roberts are studying for the Olympiad’s food science competition. They meet once a week with Dr. Joseph Wu, a professor of chemistry at UW-Platteville, to conduct experiments and learn about the science of food and drink.

“Right now we’re testing the viscosity of liquids, meaning the liquid’s thickness” said Clement, who also studies principles of genetics. “Working with Dr. Wu has been great. I’m learning a lot.”

In addition to food science, Roberts competes in the music and metric events of the Olympiad. “In music, we’re building a cigar-box guitar,” she said.

“We’ve gotten great support from the students’ parents and the principles,” said Barnet. “It speaks to their commitment that we are one of the only teams in this corner of the state.”  The middle school team won 6th place overall at the state competition March 15-17.

Introducing science to young students in a competitive atmosphere is a great way to inspire future scientists and engineers, said Barnet. “It’s an intensive beginning to science and engineering that allows them to use the knowledge they learn right away,” she said. “It’s wonderful exposure to STEM fields like mechanical engineering, especially at the middle-school level, that can prepare students for college.”

Working with the young and enthusiastic science Olympians is a pleasure for UW-Platteville professors, said Barnet. “It’s great to show others our area of expertise,” she said. “We enjoy young students who have such an interest and want to learn.”

Contact: Barbara Barnet, chair of mathematics, professor of statistics, barnetb@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Jacob Reecher, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications, (608) 342-1194, reecherj@uwplatt.edu

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