MURRAY, Ky. — On Nov. 10, four students from area high schools earned the highest scores at the Murray State University chemistry department’s 46th annual Chemistry Scholarship Tournament. These top-scoring students — Claire Umstead, Michael Okuda and Zach Ellis of Calloway County High School and Will Zehm of Marion High School — were awarded scholarships funded by student chapters of the American Chemical Society in collaboration with the MSU Foundation.
“We invited some of the brightest chemistry students in the area, getting them on campus and showing off our beautiful facility and hopefully using this as a recruitment tool when they’re deciding where to go to college. They got to interact with faculty and have fun on campus, and they also got to compete for prizes,” said Dr. Harry Fannin, chairman of the department of chemistry.
Organized by Associate Chemistry Professor Dr. Rachel Allenbaugh with help from fellow department of chemistry faculty and staff members, the “quiz bowl” event involved local high schools competing against each other by taking a general chemistry exam. Created by Allenbaugh and Chemistry Professor Dr. Terry McCreary, the quiz included 60 multiple-choice questions that McCreary stated are “exceedingly challenging.” Teams were made up of four students who were given two pencils and a solar calculator to complete the exam.
In addition to scholarships, the four highest-scoring individuals were presented cash awards, plaques and event t-shirts. The students who were eligible to win are currently in their second high school chemistry class, and, in many cases, the class is of AP status. However, younger students took home prizes as well with cash awards presented to the three highest-scoring individuals in their first year of high school chemistry.
The top-scoring high school teams — which included Calloway County, Marion, Graves County and Waverly Central — were also offered cash awards and plaques. Every tournament participant received a t-shirt, and each of the high school teachers was given a demo kit that will assist them in teaching students about solid-state reactions.
“For a lot of the smaller schools, they don’t have equipment or facilities or anything like that, so we do gifts for the teachers to increase the resources they have available,” said Allenbaugh.
Additional high schools that participated this year included Big Sandy, Fulton County, Gallatin County, Graves County (third place), Hickman County, Marion (second place), Mayfield, Norris City-Omaha-Enfield, Paducah Tilghman, St. Mary, Waverly Central (fourth place) and Union County.
Participating students from Big Sandy High School in Tennessee said they were chosen to compete based on their high scores on a practice test in chemistry class.
“I like chemistry. It’s fun,” said Bryce Sims of the Big Sandy High School team, adding that he is considering majoring in chemistry when he goes to college. While his team didn’t win the tournament, his teammates stated they were “just excited to be here.” At the end of the day, the opportunity to experience a college campus proved to be just as valuable as the prizes.
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