Science saves the day for young students
More than 400 middle and high school students from around the world submitted science project entries for the ninth annual QuikSCience Challenge.
The competition was supported by Quiksilver Inc. – the well-known producer and distributor of surfing apparel – the Quiksilver Foundation and the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies housed at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
The event featured a range of awards, and each team that submitted a complete project on time was offered a one-day trip to the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center. Many of the students attended a recognition event on April 5 at the Quiksilver headquarters in Huntington Beach.
“Every year we see increasing numbers of projects submitted,” said Lynn Whitley, director of Wrigley Institute’s pre-college educational program. “What’s particularly impressive is the noticeable improvement in the caliber of the projects. They’re getting better and better.”
The QuikSCience Challenge was meant to spark the interest of middle school and high school students in science and in marine and freshwater environments and to enhance the students’ leadership skills. Teams of up to six students chose an environmental issue and proposed ideas for scientific studies and creative solutions with high school teams also writing research proposals. In addition, they organized a community service project and created a lesson plan that they taught to other students.
All teams received a day-long trip to Catalina Island, but the first-place prize for the winning high school and middle school teams, and their teachers or advisers, was a week-long expedition to the Wrigley Marine Science Center. The winning trip featured treks to different parts of the island, visits to laboratories, snorkeling, kayaking and hiking. The second-place prize for the teams was a weekend trip to the island.
The event, which allowed one school to submit entries from two teams, has become so popular that some schools now run their own “semifinals” to whittle down multiple entries. This multiteam approach was started several years ago by Eric Harrington, a middle school teacher at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano. This year 12 schools ran semifinal competitions to select their two entries.
Santa Monica High School’s team won first place this year. Previous “SaMoHi” teams won second place in 2010, first place in 2008 and the Best Community Service award in 2007. Benjamin Kay, the Santa Monica team leader for all those awards, won the Ocean Science Leadership Early Career Award in 2007.
For the school’s “Reducing Carbon Emissions” project, students converted a 1971 Volkswagen Beetle into a zero-emission electric vehicle.
Second place in this year’s competition went to a team from Kamehameha High School in Hawaii, led by teacher Lea Parveen Arce. The project examined the effects of fertilizer on algae growth. Arce organized a team for the QuikSCience Challenge in 2010 and her students won first place that year.
Teams from Animo Charter Leadership High School in Inglewood also have had noteworthy success at the QuikSCience Challenge. They’ve won five awards since 2005, and the teacher who led those teams, Mark Friedman, won the Ocean Science Leadership’s Formal Teaching Award in 2005.
This year, the team from Animo won a different kind of prize – admission for one of its seniors to this fall’s USC freshman class. Crystal Juarez, 18, already is familiar with the QuikSCience Challenge and USC.
She has been on the Animo teams for two years, and her teams have worked with the USC faculty, staff and students in the Center for Dark Energy Biosphere Investigations (C-DEBI), a center supported by the National Science Foundation and led by Katrina Edwards, professor of biological sciences, earth sciences and environmental studies at USC Dornsife. As C-DEBI scholars, Juarez and her teammates incorporated C-DEBI research into their project for last year’s QuikSCience Challenge and won the award for Best New Science in a Lesson Plan.
For several years, USC graduate and undergraduate students have helped the many teams from middle schools and high schools by serving as volunteer mentors. This year, 27 USC students worked with teams to provide scientific and technical guidance for their projects.
Whitley said the event has attracted interest from other parts of the country.
“Even though we’re focused on California, people in other places hear about the challenge by word of mouth or the Internet,” she said.
The challenge has come a long way over the past nine years, said Terri Bidle, QuikSCience program manager at the Wrigley Institute.
“We had entries from Hawaii and Guam, and we even had two teams from Idaho this year,” she said. “We’re getting closer to our dream of making the QuikSCience Challenge a national and international program.”