University Hosts 'In Search of Genius' School Science Competition
A student in the May 16 ISOG competition at North Park University shows her weather project to a volunteer judge.
Program designed to teach elementary school students about science, technology
CHICAGO (May 22, 2013) — North Park University hosted hundreds of Chicago elementary school students from at least 17 schools May 16 in a competition designed to show what they have learned in a school-based science enrichment program, "In Search of Genius" (ISOG).
ISOG provides students who live in under-served areas with opportunities to learn about science and related disciplines in enrichment sessions during regular school hours or in after-school programs. University faculty and staff became interested in the program as a way to possibly connect University students with neighborhood schools, and as a way to introduce potential students to the University, especially when it opens the new, state-of-the-art Nancy and G. Timothy Johnson Center for Science and Community Life in 2014.
One of the volunteer judges was Rob Davies of Winnetka, Ill., a sophomore chemistry major at North Park. Davies said he volunteered for the experience, and recalled his own excitement about science at a young age. "The students get a great learning experience, and they learn how to use their knowledge in the field," he said. "It's also a prerequisite to how they're going to work in the field in the future."
Earlier this year, some North Park University faculty and staff went to Rogers Elementary School in Chicago to observe the ISOG program. "Students were excited to be involved in science," said one of the observers, Dr. Jonathan Rienstra-Kiracofe, professor of chemistry and Chemistry Department chair. "It was also hands-on. This after-school program gave the students a chance to really explore science and do experiments in a way that got them very excited about science." The students were also curious and wanted to learn more, he added.
The North Park faculty and staff who went to the Rogers school were told there is a waiting list for students to join the ISOG after-school program, said Dr. John Laukaitis, assistant professor of education. "When we're looking at what is exciting students about the sciences, technology, engineering, mathematics, we're looking at what gets students invested and engaged. We saw that with ISOG," he said. Laukaitis added that "a collaborative relationship between North Park University and ISOG has the potential to help prepare student teachers for their future careers by helping them learn many best instructional practices in teaching science."
Gerry Walanka, ISOG founding director, Chicago, said North Park's interest in science and related fields, plus its city location, made it a natural to host the competition. He said the ISOG curriculum focuses on "STEM"—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—because science education today includes these disciplines. "In Search of Genius is a unique, living example of how to involve several generations, including the youngest at a key age, with STEM," he said.
Joining the University as cosponsors of the 2013 ISOG competition were several corporate and community-based organizations. Among those who welcomed the students were Dr. Joseph Jones, University provost, and Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County board president, who reminded the students she was a schoolteacher for 10 years before her political career. "It's great to see so many young people out here today. I came to encourage and support you, and wish you all very good luck. I want to thank the teachers and staff who are here, and parents who enabled our young people to participate in this program," she said.
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