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You Be The Chemist contest challenges students

By ErinPradia
March 22, 2012 at 9:01 p.m.
Updated March 22, 2012 at 10:23 p.m.

Reid Goodwine, Kevin Clark and Seth Garrett, 13-year-old students at Cade Middle School, warmed up for the chemistry challenge by eating pizza and cookies, and playing video games at Victoria West High School. Despite the prizes offered, none said they were nervous about the competition.

Students from Cade Middle School and Seadrift School put their chemistry knowledge to the test Thursday night, vying for three slots in the state competition of the "You Be the Chemist Challenge."

Twenty students from Seadrift School and 60 from Cade Middle School were whittled down to 15 students from each school for the regional competition held at West High School. Three students emerged as winners.

"It's been a good challenge - it was a rigorous test. We appreciate Dow enhancing our science program," said Cindy Neuvar, the learning facilitator at Cade Middle School. "We are thrilled with our results. We even have some sixth- and seventh-graders included on our team."

"It's like a spelling bee, but with a twist that brings great chemistry to the classroom and onto the auditorium stage," said Trish Thompson, public affairs manager at Dow Seadrift Operations.

Questions were displayed on a projector, then students answered them with electronic remotes.

Between rounds, while the results were being tallied, the children watched short science presentations by Dow employee volunteers Lawrence "Dr. Freeze" Wicks and Heather "Madam Atom" Bland.

A maximum of three students were eliminated in each of the six rounds of multiple-choice questions, the remaining students answered a round of oral questions. Much like a spelling bee, a student had to answer two questions correctly to win.

The event culminated with liquid nitrogen ice cream for everyone.

In addition to qualifying for the state competition, the top three contestants from Thursday's competition won a Kindle Fire, an iPod Touch or a 3DS game set.

The top three students from the state competition will advance to the national competition in Philadelphia, Pa. this summer.

This is the first year any Texas Dow site has offered the You Be The Chemist challenge, Thompson said.

"We wanted to keep it small, so we just invited Cade and Seadrift," she said. "But next year we plan to branch out."

The program was initiated by employees at Dow Chemical's Seadrift Operations site in partnership with The Chemical Education Foundation and encourages students to learn about chemistry in a fun and challenging environment, Thompson said.

"I think it's wonderful to have a community relationship with the local businesses," said Seadrift School Principal Dwana Finster.

The students - and the teachers - learned along the way, studying in groups in the weeks leading up to the regional competition.

Seadrift School science teacher Adam Sternadel agreed - exposing students to science outside the books and the classroom and introducing them to people who work in the science field adds a whole new dimension to their education.

Brenna Sestak, 14, said she is using the competition as preparation for the future.

"I'm gonna have to do chemistry in high school, and this may make it easier," Brenna said.

The eighth-grader from Cade Middle School said she already knew some of the material, such as the scientific method, but other aspects of chemistry, such as the periodic tables, were new to her.

Gabby Aros, 14, from Cade middle School, said science is not her favorite subject, but she is good at it and finds herself involved with it on a regular basis.

"Space is mind boggling to think about," the eighth-grader said. "Compared to math where there are solid numbers."

However, outer space is what draws 15-year-old Justice Cunningham to science.

"I'm good at science and math. My favorite part of science is studying outer space," said Justice, a student at Seadrift School.

Indifferent about the outcome, Justice said the competition was just something fun to do.

"It's just exciting to see kids who are interested in chemistry and could develop a passion for it as a result of this competition," Thompson said. "Who knows - there could be some future Dow employees here tonight."



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