CLEMSON — More than 950 students from middle and high schools throughout South Carolina will come to Clemson University Friday, April 20, to compete in the 33rd annual Biology Merit Exam. The event was established to give students a “sneak peek” at college life and to experience how science can be fun.

The department of biological sciences in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences sponsors the exam. The event provides an opportunity for students to test their knowledge of biology; and for some, the exam serves as a source of inspiration to get them involved in science. Associate professor Ricardo A. Garcia started the event in 1979. Associate professor William Baldwin is coordinating the event this year. 

The 2012 exam, written by professor Robert Kosinski, consists of 40 multiple-choice questions about killer whales, or Orcinus orca. Selected students will compete in the Biology Bowl, a “Jeopardy”-style contest following the exam. Activities are scheduled throughout the afternoon to give students opportunities to meet with professors and visit science labs and museums on campus.

“I hope their experience at Clemson will inspire students to continue learning about biology throughout their lives, consider careers in science and consider attending Clemson University,” said Baldwin. 

Approximately 25,000 students have attended the Biology Merit Exam since it began, and many from the past several years now are enrolled at Clemson.

Since 1998, Clemson's grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) have supported more than 2,800 students from middle and high schools in the lower part of the state to participate in the exam, science activities and a Career Expo on the night before the exam. This year the institute's grant sponsors 229 students and teachers to come to Clemson who might not otherwise be able to attend. The grant provides funding for bus transportation; overnight hotel accommodations for teachers, students and chaperones; academic activities on campus on Thursday and Friday; dining hall lunch passes on Friday; and Biology Merit Exam registration fees.

“The Biology Merit Exam and HHMI’s support of scientific education programs demonstrate that Clemson’s scientific outreach to middle and high school students in South Carolina is an effective strategy for higher education to increase enrollment in scientific disciplines,” said Barbara Speziale, associate dean of undergraduate studies at Clemson University, director for the HHMI grants and a professor in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences.