SMWC helps discover the next generation’s top researchers

March 4th, 2013 | SMWC

Akoachere prepares for chemistry demonstration.

By Lisa Luper
Communications intern

Who will discover the cure for cancer? Who will develop a renewable source of energy? Who will reach out to touch the farthest star in the universe or gaze at the inner workings of the smallest cell? Maybe it will be an Indiana high school student. Who will encourage that student to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or math? Perhaps it will be Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

In a partnership between the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force, and colleges across the country, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) is helping find the next generation’s top researchers by sponsoring the Indiana region’s 40th annual Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (InJSHS) on March 7-9, 2013. This is the fifth year that SMWC has sponsored this prestigious scholarship program for high school students, and between 90-100 students are expected to attend.

Students were invited to submit an abstract of an original research project they completed over the past year. Twenty-three were chosen to present their research at the symposium and compete for scholarships up to $2,000, which will be awarded to the top three students. The top five students will win a trip to the 51st annual national JSHS in Dayton, Ohio, at the Crown Plaza on May 1-5, 2013. The first and second place regional winners will present at nationals, and the third place winner will be invited to a poster display.

Dave Grabowski, Ph.D., biology professor and department chair at SMWC, said that at Indiana’s JSHS, the judges are searching for brilliant students who are conducting original research. “We aren’t looking for the biggest splash or pizzazz,” Grabowski said. “We are looking for students with great minds who are following the scientific process and the scientific method.”

The event promotes STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math. People in STEM careers design and build everything from bridges and buildings to cars and computers. STEM people are zoologists, physicists, mathematicians, and more. In fact, out of the 20 fastest growing jobs, 15 of them are STEM-related according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

However, the Department of Defense is concerned that there aren’t enough people trained to fill these jobs. As other nations have increasingly invested in STEM education, the U.S. has fallen behind. Foreign nations are now producing many more scientists and engineers than the United States, which, according to the Department of Defense’s STEM Education and Outreach Strategic Plan, could negatively impact the future and security of the U.S. By rewarding academic excellence through JSHS, the U.S. military hopes to widen the pool of scientists, engineers, and others trained in research and development.

In addition to the student presentations and scholarships, SMWC’s Monique Bate Akoachere, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry and biochemist, will give an exciting chemistry demonstration.

“The Indiana JSHS gives students an opportunity to build up their scientific knowledge,” Akoachere explained.  “If we can expose them to science early in life and teach them that science is their friend, maybe they will realize that it’s not so difficult. Then they will begin to understand that they have a role to play during this time to help solve the issues the world faces, and the responsibility they have to embrace that role.”

Akoachere studied biochemistry in Cameroon, Africa where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Buea before receiving a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Giessen in Germany. While in Cameroon, her first research project led to the development of an immunodiagnostic tool to facilitate early detection of river blindness – the second leading cause of infectious blindness in humans. During her career as a biochemist, she has conducted research on anthrax and malaria and she has written nearly a dozen publications and teaching advanced courses.

As a woman chemist, she stressed how important it is for women’s colleges like SMWC to promote STEM. “We need more women in the sciences,” Akoachere said. “Science needs women, and women need science. I want to teach girls, and boys, too, that it is so fulfilling being able to make a difference in the world and in the lives of others.”



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