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MSOE science contest brings out best in students

Exam tests knowledge gained throughout school careers

Nov. 20, 2012

Last Tuesday's day outside of school wasn't your normal field trip for eight Wauwatosa West students: It was a day of testing that pitted the students against more than 100 other high schoolers in the Milwaukee School of Engineering's Opportunity Science Conference.

The conference, which has been going on since 1980, tests the students in physics, chemistry, biology and earth sciences individually before having the schools face off in a group competition. The test requires that students be in groups of eight to participate. West was able to just get the right number of students to have a team.

The goal for the West students, all of whom have participated in past competitions, is to place in the top 10. Last year saw one student place in the top 10.

Tom Schneider, a West teacher who has brought students to the conferences since 1999, said "I can't emphasize enough the level of competition we're up against. To get a student in the top 10 is really saying something."

Due to the wide range of topics and the changing nature of the tests, the students cannot hope to prepare for what the specifics of the test hold for them. The students have gotten together once or twice to prepare in the past, but the test is structured so that students are tested on what they know, not what they prepare for.

Erin Stapleton, a senior, self-professed art girl and three-year conference participant, said, "I initially did this field trip because I thought it would look attractive on my college application. Then I went and it stimulated me as a science student and I found myself taking the tests, and I was like 'Oh hey, I actually know some of this stuff. Maybe I'm not so bad at science.' "

While awards and trophies are given to those who place, there is no state or national test to advance to. The test is a one-time deal, and the rewards are one-time as well.

The conference sees not only Wisconsin students compete, but students from Illinois and Michigan. Due to school budget cuts, the number has dwindled over the years. Schneider recalled seeing many more groups and schools compete when he began taking West students in 1999.

While the conference is designed with competition in mind, the main purpose of the event is to pique an interest for higher learning in the students.

"This gives them a sense of how serious everyone is around them," Schneider said. "The goofballs don't show up. You create an atmosphere of what it's like after high school."

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