Urban Schools Initiative for Pennsylvania Science Olympiad Competition Held at Saint Joseph’s University

Posted by on May 11, 2017

By Brian M. Forster, Ph.D.

General Education Program Science Lab Coordinator, Saint Joseph’s University, bforster@sju.edu, 610-660-3188

Science Olympiad is a national nonprofit dedicated to improving the quality of science education that has been in operation for 33 years. It is run by current and retired teachers/professors, scientists and former Science Olympiad students. Science Olympiad runs the most comprehensive STEM competition in the country with over 300,000 students participating in all 50 states. For the past three years, Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) professors Dr. Jean Smolen (Assoc. Dean, Math/Computer Science & Natural Sciences), Dr. Claire Conry-Murray (Psychology), and Dr. Brian Forster (Gen. Education Program Science Lab Coordinator) have collaborated with Scott Leggett, coordinator of the Urban Schools Initiative for Pennsylvania Science Olympiad, to bring Science Olympiad to SJU.

On March 18th, 2017, 225 middle and high school students visited SJU for a day of science competitions. The public, charter, private and parochial schools that participated in this year’s Olympiad included:

  • Blaine Academy Plus School
  • Folk Arts–Cultural Treasures Charter School
  • Friends Select School
  • Friere Charter School
  • W. Carver High School of Engineering
  • George W. Nebinger Elementary
  • Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High school
  • Penn Upward Bound Math and Science
  • Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School- A String Theory School
  • Simon Gratz Prep Middle Mastery Charter
  • Saint Katherine of Sienna
  • Vare-Washington Elementary
  • William D. Kelley Elementary School

Students had a chance to compete in various events. The major topics of these events include:

  • Life, Personal and Social Sciences
  • Earth and Space Science
  • Physical science and Chemistry
  • Technology and Engineering
  • Inquiry and Nature of Science

When I was a freshman in high school, I participated in my hometown’s science competition at the College of Staten Island by competing in chemistry, but it was only a paper test. What impresses me about Science Olympiad is that not only do they have competitions that are paper tests, but they have activities and allow students to build things and participate in conducting actual lab experiments! That is something I wish I could have done when I participated in my science competition. Students can build towers, robotic arms, helicopters and electric vehicles. Students conducting lab experiments in forensics/crime busters, food chemistry and general chemistry got to work in my teaching laboratories. Imagine the thrill I had when I designed and proctored the chemistry lab competition. It reminded me of the time I was the freshman competing. I guess the saying, “life comes full circle,” holds true for me. During the competition, Dr. William Hite, Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, visited SJU and had a chance to see the students competing.

SJU Picture 2

Students competing in Crime Busters lab activity

Following the competitions, my teaching laboratories were opened up to the students and their families. For many of these students, this is the first time they have gotten to see what a college laboratory looks like. Helping me organize this open house was Ms. Molly Southwell, SJU Biology Department Outreach Project Manager. Six biology undergraduate and graduate students were also on hand to show students the experiments we work on in the lab. For students interested in anatomy and physiology, our anatomical models and dissected specimens were out on display to be taken apart and examined. In our general biology lab, students got to see how we analyze DNA using gel electrophoresis. The environmental science lab had on display various genetically modified organisms and fluorescent minerals. Solar panels and hydroelectric wheels were also available for the students to learn about various alternative energies.

SJU picture 1

Dr. William Hite & Dr. Brian Forster

Unfortunately, I did not win the chemistry award when I competed at the College of Staten Island’s science competition, but I am proud of the fact that I did participate. I believe it was one of the reasons I am passionate about science and education today. Seeing the student’s eagerness to compete and visit our labs during open house has shown me that Science Olympiad is having the same effect on the next generation of scientists!



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