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Barry Schrader


I currently write a column each Tuesday for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle. The column will also appear on this website each week and be added to the archives.

The Articles started December 2007.


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Science fair students aim for lofty goals

By Barry Schrader.................................March 30, 2010

Over the years I have been at quite a few science fairs from grade school to college level. But the ingenuity of the students and their projects continues to amaze me.
The Regional Science Fair for middle and high schoolers from northern Illinois on a recent weekend at NIU’s Chick Evans Field House was well worth visiting. There I saw 385 student projects, the result of hundreds of hours of extracurricular effort on the part of young people and their teachers. There were 34 middle schools and 11 high schools that had entries.
Again, just like the history fair a few weeks earlier, only a handful of schools from DeKalb County were represented – Sandwich High, Clinton Rosette Middle School in DeKalb and the middle schools from St. Mary in DeKalb and St. Mary’s in Sycamore. Those from nearby counties that I noticed included Hampshire, Leland and Marengo.
Listening to some of the discussions around the displays I was so impressed with students talking about physics, chemistry, geography, biology and other technical areas I was never exposed to as a youth, except maybe in one science class. It was heartwarming to think that these young people will be our scientists, engineers, educators, doctors and leaders in the future.
Judy Sheppler, the Region 5 coordinator along with Maggie Jung for the Illinois Junior Academy of Science, said the top winners from this fair advance to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the statewide exposition in May. Several departments at NIU donated funds in support of the fair, probably hoping some of the winners will make Northern their college of choice. She reported that two projects were judged at the top from DeKalb County – Ian Dougen from Clinton Rosette and Madeline Alger from St. Mary in DeKalb.

This project titled “Natural Radioactivity in Northern Illinois Groundwater” was presented by eighth-grader Ian Dougen of Clinton Rosette Middle School in DeKalb. He captured a first place.(Schrader photo)

Madeline Alger's "How Does Wing Placement Help" took a first and will do on to state competition. She is an 8th grader at St. Mary School in DeKalb.

Talking to Ian’s teacher, Roger Christiansen, I realized how much effort goes into the projects. He formed a science club at Clinton Rosette six years ago with 15 students. Now this year they had 98 projects among the students that took part in an earlier fair at the school. Two of his students went downstate last year and won medals. Ian was among 15 who moved to the regional fair this month. His topic was “Radioactivity in Northern Illinois Groundwater” and the details in his display showed how much research went into this.
Science teacher Kristen Alger said some 46 student projects were displayed at St. Mary in DeKalb this year and 10 of those advanced to the one held at NIU. It just so happens that Madeline is her daughter, who went all the way to state last year as well. Madeline’s project is titled “How Does Wing Placement Help” regarding fixed wing aircraft. Ms. Alger said her daughter has a special interest in flight and “has hopes of becoming a pilot.”
That hope reminds me of a young woman I knew when working at Sandia National Labs. Her name was Ellen Ochoa and she aspired to become an astronaut. A few years later she got accepted into the NASA training program and became the first Hispanic female to go into space – and more than once.
We had her come back and talk to the high school students in town and what an inspiration and role model she turned out to be. So maybe Madeline should aim even higher – we need qualified people to go to Mars someday!

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115