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Published: Wednesday, 6/20/2007

BGSU Environmental Academy introduces science's smelly side

BY ALI SEITZ
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Plant superintendent Mike Ritter, at left, in white shirt and suspenders, explains wastewater treatment processes. Plant superintendent Mike Ritter, at left, in white shirt and suspenders, explains wastewater treatment processes.
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BOWLING GREEN - Pulling their shirts up over their noses, 54 students yesterday experienced the stench at the wastewater treatment plant here.

"I never knew how it worked before," Waite High School junior Maria Urbieta said.

The juniors and seniors from high schools all over Ohio are participating in the Regents Environmental Academy for Learning at Bowling Green State University, a three-week program that aims to teach scientific thinking through environmental health science.

Rather than the typical lectures, the academy's curriculum is based almost entirely on hands-on experiments.

Too often, believes Chris Keil, the program director, science is taught as a body of knowledge that needs to be memorized.

From left, Rebecca Szparagowski of Bowling Green and Jen Kaltenbach and Melissa Leimgruber of North Baltimore react to odors from the sewage treatment plant. From left, Rebecca Szparagowski of Bowling Green and Jen Kaltenbach and Melissa Leimgruber of North Baltimore react to odors from the sewage treatment plant.
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"Science is a process. It's discovery. It's exploring," he said.

During the first week, teachers in the program lead students through experiments, showing them how to titrate, precisely measure heat levels, and develop other fundamental skills as well as demonstrating correct scientific methods and thought processes.

During the next two weeks, the teachers will fall into "guide on the side" roles that leave more decision-making to the students.

The program will culminate with experiments designed and executed by groups of about four students on anything related to environmental health science. Topics may run the gamut from field runoff to chemicals in dishwater to the impact of agriculture on residents.

From a pool of about 120 applicants, the academy tried to create a class of students with diverse interests and abilities.

While some aspire to a career in science, many are unsure or do not want to directly enter scientific fields. Maria, for instance, possibly will enter politics as an advocate.

The program is purposely geared more toward scientific thought processes and experimentation than specific details.

Mr. Keil hopes students leave the program ready to critically, scientifically evaluate information in whichever career or course of study they pursue.

The teachers are a combination of high school teachers, college professors, and university students.

The academy participants like the mix because the university students and professors give them a taste of college, while the high school teachers are good at explaining concepts in a familiar way.

REAL is one of 10 summer academies sponsored by the Ohio Board of Regents for the first time this year.

Eight of the summer academies focus on STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and two focus on foreign languages.

REAL's $340,000 grant covers the cost of the program, including students' housing, food, books, and activities.

The regents will fund some academies next year, but how many remains unclear.

If given the chance, Mr. Keil said he will be ready and willing to organize another REAL program.

Keiquan Blackmon, a senior at Springfield High School, will find a use for the skills he has learned very shortly. He wants to become a cardiac surgeon.

"I've wanted to be one since I was small," he said.

With premedical requirements just around the bend, he is grateful for the extra chemistry.

Contact Ali Seitz at:

aseitz@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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