- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2019

Forty-two middle schoolers from across the country tested their knowledge of chemistry Monday in the 15th annual You Be the Chemist National Challenge.

Held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Northwest, the daylong competition required the collection of junior would-be scientists to answer advanced multiple-choice chemistry questions in front of an audience.

“Some students don’t know they have a knowledge in science, and we want to bring awareness and bring out some fun around science,” said Dwayne Sattler, executive director of Chemical Education Foundation, which sponsors the annual contest.

“Science helps make progress in the world, and it helps us make sure we don’t go backward and repeat mistakes,” said Teya Bodger, an eighth-grade competitor from Brandon, South Dakota, who wants to be an astrophotographer.

The program is celebrating more than a decade of teaching students in sixth through eighth grades to love science and help them learn advanced topics outside the classroom before high school.

About 60,000 students compete in local competitions in their home states, and the winners of the state competitions participate in the national challenge.

The remaining 42 students compete in three preliminary rounds and then students are eliminated periodically over the course of six more rounds until there are two left for the final questions.

The champion wins a $12,000 scholarship, a trophy and a scientific calculator valued at $100. The three runner-ups receive smaller scholarships, trophies and calculators as well.

But winning is not the most important part of the You Be the Chemist program. Students learn skills outside general middle school classes to better prepare them for careers in science.

Speaking to the students before the competition began, Mr. Sattler read a message from the first You Be the Chemist champion in 2005, Maggie Leake, who now attends graduate school.

“You don’t have to win to be good. You already are,” Mr. Sattler quoted Ms. Leake.

Brody Lister, an eighth-grader at Mount Ogden Junior High in Ogden, Utah, said the competition is more about learning than winning. He was one of three students who competed in the challenge for the second year in a row, and he said he was happy to be back, even if he didn’t win.

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” Brody said. “It’s a competition. There’s a level of excitement, pressure.”

Brody and the other competitors must venture beyond traditional middle school classroom work to study chemistry at an advanced level and beyond basic high school classes, spending hours reviewing study guides and practice questions.

“In school we’re kind of limited. We only learn what the curriculum says,” said Yuvan Chali, an eighth-grader and two-time competitor from Franterac, Missouri. “Here we can go more in-depth.”

The overall goal is to prepare middle school students to have a career in science. Scot Kangisser, a science teacher at Triadelphia Middle School in Wheeling, West Virginia, said preparing students for these careers long before high school is better for the future of science.

“The jobs these kids are going to get don’t even exist yet,” Mr. Kangisser said. “Having them building these foundations allows them to reach these peaks later on in life.”

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