Com­pe­ti­tion re­ward en­cour­ages stu­dents to study STEM

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY EMMA AY­ERS

Amer­ica’s sci­en­tific fu­ture may be­long to a group of smil­ing mid­dle-school­ers.

The non­profit Chem­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tional Foun­da­tion on Mon­day brought to­gether some of the na­tion’s bright­est young­sters for its “You Be the Chemist Na­tional Chal­lenge” at the Omni Shore­ham Ho­tel in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

The tour­na­ment al­lowed 42 fifth- to eighth-graders to show­case their sci­en­tific knowl­edge in a for­mat sim­i­lar to that of a spell­ing bee.

“They aren’t asked what words to spell,” said Kurt Het­ting, board mem­ber of the event and pres­i­dent of Su­pe­rior Oil Co. “In­stead they’re asked ex­tremely dif­fi­cult chem­istry ques­tions.”

The grand prize was cer­tainly worth vy­ing for.

“The cham­pion re­ceives a $12,000 ed­u­ca­tional schol­ar­ship,” said Emily Bel­son, se­nior man­ager of the foun­da­tion, which is based in Alexan­dria, Vir­ginia. “In fact, the three run­ners-up re­ceive schol­ar­ships as well.”

These are well-tested com­peti­tors, too. By the time they reach the na­tional com­pe­ti­tion, the stu­dents al­ready have com­peted and won lo­cal and state-level matches.

Mr. Het­ting noted that this is the first time the 13-year-old com­pe­ti­tion has been held out­side of Philadel­phia.

“It’s an op­por­tu­nity to take it to an­other town, and to ex­pose the foun­da­tion to peo­ple on the Hill,” he said, em­pha­siz­ing the im­por­tance of STEM (science, tech­nol­ogy, en­gi­neer­ing, math­e­mat­ics) ed­u­ca­tion for the na­tion’s fu­ture.

With stakes so high, a lit­tle ner­vous­ness in the young com­peti­tors would be ex­pected.

But as the stu­dents waited be­fore tak­ing the stage, they dis­played no ag­i­ta­tion. The 42 mid­dle-school­ers seemed ex­cited to show off what they know about the sub­ject they love.

Kai Sven­son, an eighth-grader from Kens­ing­ton, Mary­land, at­trib­uted his con­fi­dence to the time he had devoted to learn­ing via an on­line plat­form that STEM ed­u­ca­tors en­cour­age chil­dren to use.

“I’ve been do­ing a lot of study­ing by watch­ing a lot of YouTube videos,” Kai said. “I try to an­swer any doubt I have or any­thing I think could be an­swered in a bet­ter way. I watch a lot of crash-course videos, and those have re­ally helped me.”

Bryan Stat­tler, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Chem­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tional Foun­da­tion, said STEM in­no­va­tion in ele­men­tary and mid­dle school is vi­tal to the health of the econ­omy.

“From a re­search per­spec­tive, if we are able to con­nect with ele­men­tary and mid­dle-school stu­dents and get them in­ter­ested in science, they are much more likely to con­tinue in it. But mid­dle school is where we lose peo­ple,” Mr. Stat­tler said.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­port from the Na­tional Science Foun­da­tion, ele­men­tary stu­dents spend more time read­ing than do­ing math and science com­bined. And only 16 per­cent of high school grad­u­ates even con­sider a STEM ma­jor in col­lege.

The U.S. job mar­ket will likely see the ef­fects of those choices. The Na­tional Bureau of Eco­nomic Re­search says that STEM-cen­tered jobs will grow by 17 per­cent by next year, and ex­perts es­ti­mate that 1.2 mil­lion of those jobs will not be filled. By com­par­i­son, the growth rate for non-STEM jobs is around 8 per­cent.

CHEM­I­CAL ED­U­CA­TIONAL FOUN­DA­TION

The “You Be the Chemist Na­tional Chal­lenge” re­wards stu­dents in a spell­ing bee-type at­mos­phere, and aims to en­cour­age fu­ture science ca­reers.

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