Sixteen teams of sixth, seventh and eighth grade students from South Texas middle schools converged on The University of Texas-Pan American campus April 28 to participate in the regional level of the National Science Bowl competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and Office of Minority Programs.
UTPA was one of 31 sites across the nation to host the event which showcases the students' knowledge of math and science in both academic and model hydrogen fuel cell car competitions. In its second year at UTPA, the regional competition became a reality through a relationship cultivated between the University and DOE during HESTEC (Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology) Week, an event held annually at UTPA to encourage interest by students in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Dr. Roland S. Arriola, vice president for External Affairs, said his division worked with the College of Science and Engineering and South Texas schools to organize the event.
"We saw a great response from the schools and especially from the students," Arriola said. "We continue to see the great potential our middle school students have and we saw this as an opportunity to showcase just how academically strong they are."
In the "quiz show" style academic competition, teams of four to five students were pitted against one another to answer questions related to science, math facts, and concepts. The car competition required the students to utilize applied science and engineering skills to design and build a lightweight vehicle with efficient gearing, fuel storage and performance, and then race the cars in heats to determine the winner.
Coached by Celeste Moreno and Gustavo Rivera, the winning Ann Richards Middle School team members included students Velia Garcia, Valerie Cabrera, Reynaldo Leanos, Jose Pena, and Gus Rivera.
Leanos, a veteran of last year's winning team, said his team entered this year's competition with a lot of "heart" to want to return to the national championship and their strategy including trying to minimize any faults that they had last year.
At a luncheon May 25 at UTPA to honor the science bowl participants, each top three placing team members were awarded the following prizes: first place - a Dell laptop computer; second place - a SanDisk Sansa MP3 player; and third place - a TI-83 graphing calculator.
"The National Science Bowl represents a big step for South Texas middle schools. Because the closest regional competition had been held in other cities far from the Valley, our schools had been unable to compete. Now, they have an opportunity to show how strong they are, and it will open many opportunities for scholarships and other types of recognition for our students," Arriola said.
The U.S. DOE launched the National Science Bowl competition in 1991 to help develop the work force that America requires to remain at the forefront of scientific advances, technological innovation and economic competitiveness. The competition was expanded in 2002 to include middle schools and this year more than 5,000 middle school students across the country have participated.
For more information on the National Science Bowl competition at UTPA, contact Albert Aguirre at 956/381-2622. For information on HESTEC, go to www.hestec.org.