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Science Olympiads bring bright young minds to UNG

Science Olympiad Oconee Campus
Students of Rocky Branch Elementary School display their first-place trophy and individual medals. By placing in the top three schools at the UNG Oconee Campus Science Olympiad, they earned the right to compete at the upcoming state-level competition.

In recent events hosted on three of its campuses, the University of North Georgia brought in students from regional schools to compete in Science Olympiads. Science Olympiad is a national organization promoting education in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields through competitions.

School-sponsored teams send two to three students to compete in 23 different events during an Olympiad. Some of the events are specific to certain STEM fields, and there are general science events as well. The top-performing students in each event earn medals, but teams are also assessed collectively, with the top three earning trophies and invitations to proceed to the next level.

"The Science Olympiad excels in two ways," said Karrie Fadroski, senior biology lecturer at UNG. "It exposes students to aspects of science they will not necessarily encounter in the classroom, and fosters a collaborative environment where students can thrive. It teaches students more than the knowledge they gain for individual events. They learn the value of teamwork. They learn that science encompasses many disciplines and requires the ability to synthesize information. They learn to take pride in their academic strengths and ambitions. And, vitally important for these age groups, it encourages students to pursue scientific endeavors. The reward is not a grade, but competitive victory."

UNG's Oconee Campus partnered with the Oconee River Georgia Youth Science & Technology Center (GYSTC) of the Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency to feature 15 teams of elementary school students in its Science Olympiad — the first event of its kind in the region to involve students of those ages.

"The Science Olympiad Invitational is a great way for the students to show off their science knowledge and engineering skills in a competitive setting," said Kenneth Linsley, regional coordinator of the Oconee River GYSTC. "The response has been great for this being our first year, and we look forward to seeing this event grow in future years. The more students we can get excited about science, the better! The earlier they get excited about science, the more likely they will be to pursue a career in this growing field, or at the very least be a scientifically-literate citizen."

Dr. Eric Skipper, acting CEO of UNG's Oconee Campus, said that every institution of higher learning wants to serve the community in a meaningful way, and that the Oconee Campus was very pleased to host a high-profile event like the Science Olympiad, and delighted at the enthusiastic response from elementary schools in the region.

"We had about 300 students and almost as many parents attend the event," said Jim Konzelman, professor of chemistry.

The Science Olympiad at UNG's Gainesville Campus featured more than 160 students from local middle schools. Forty-five UNG faculty and staff and more than 60 UNG students supervised the event, working with coaches and parents to provide information and direction and helping with the awards ceremony.

"This is a great experience for students at a young age," said Dr. Tim Howell, assistant department head of chemistry and biochemistry. "They had the opportunity to be exposed to our campus and facilities while also participating in science activities that are educational, challenging and fun."

UNG's Dahlonega Campus hosted 23 student teams from regional high schools, aided by several student helpers who previously competed in Olympiads.

"The Science Olympiad is a non-standard niche students can explore if they discover a passion," Fadroski said. "During high school, I also competed. I believe those experiences were the catalyst for my scientific pursuits and career."

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