Imagine the brain power of 84 high school wiz-kids – including 10 from Alcorn County -- six university scientists, and a handful of college seniors that gathered recently on the campus of The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg for the High School Polymer Science Student Competition.
“This event is designed to get kids excited about science with hands-on events, so that they also get excited about continuing their education,” said Dr. James Rawlins, assistant professor in the School of Polymers and High Performance Materials; who moderated the quiz bowl.
The competition, held in the Thames Polymer Science Research Center Auditorium, included both an individual written exam and a team quiz bowl between schools and is part of the state mandated competition for all technical training programs. Schools taking part in this year’s competition were Carl Loftin Career and Technical Center of Columbia, Moss Point High School, Petal High School, Alcorn Career and Technical Center of Corinth, Hattiesburg High School, and Simpson County Technical Center.
"This competition provides an opportunity to enhance science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education of young Mississippians and to highlight opportunities for young Mississippians at The University of Southern Mississippi. In addition, faculty outreach with local schools creates excitement about studying science and careers in science," said Dr. Joe Whitehead, Interim Dean, College of Science and Technology.
“This was an event our students wanted to attend and they held fundraisers to get the necessary money,” stated Stephanie Parsons, instructor at Alcorn Career and Technical Center in Corinth. “We have the only polymer program in North Mississippi, our class sizes are increasing and we are attracting more students with higher than normal ACT scores,” she said.
Mississippi is the only state with polymer science programs in high schools. The Mississippi Polymer Science Institute at Southern Miss (MPI) is instrumental in setting up high school polymer science programs throughout the state.
“Presently there are seven polymer programs around the state,” explained Ty Posey, extension projects specialist at MPI. “We are actively expanding and expect to have two more schools on board within the next year.”
The 84 competing students were divided into two groups for testing; those in their first year of polymer studies, and those in their second year. The written exam winner in first year studies was 16-year-old William Walker of Simpson County Technical Center.
“He (Walker) is very well versed in chemistry and is self-taught, having never had a chemistry class,” said Rawlins. “He is definitely scholarship material when the time comes.”
In the group of 42 individuals taking the exam for second year students, there was a tie between two students from the program at Petal High School. After taking an advanced “runoff exam”
18-year-old Jacob Rogers was declared the winner. Rogers, who is a senior, plans to attend Jones County Junior College in the fall and is considering transferring from there to Southern Miss.
“Under Mississippi’s “2+2 Program” a student can attend a junior college for two years, then transfer to a senior college where all the polymer science courses are put into those two last years of school,” Rawlins said.
The winning team in the quiz bowl competition was comprised of three first year students from Simpson County Technical Center, anchored by Walker, with 18-year-old Joseph Walker and 16-year-old David Nicholas.
For more information about Southern Miss programs in polymer science, online visit: www.usm.edu/polymer.
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.