CLEMSON — Nearly 900 students from middle and high schools throughout South Carolina, and some from as far away as Maryland and Virginia, will come to Clemson University Friday to compete in the 34th annual Biology Merit Exam.

Sponsored by the biological sciences department in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences, the event gives students the opportunity to test their knowledge of biology and, for some, the inspiration to get involved in science. Associate professor Ricardo A. Garcia started the event in 1979 to give students a “sneak peek” at college life and to experience ways science can be fun.

“They are bright, competitive and they love the experience of being on the Clemson campus,” said Robbie Miller, who teaches anatomy and physiology at Marlboro County High School. Miller has been bringing his students to the Biology Merit Exam more than 12 years.

The 2013 exam, written by Robert Kosinski, consists of 40-multiple choice questions about the biology of yellow jackets (Vespula squamosa). Selected students will compete in the “Jeopardy”-style Biology Bowl following the exam. The students will be able to meet with professors and visit science labs and museums on campus in the afternoon.

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

Since 1998, grants from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) have supported more than 2,800 students who participated in the exam, science activities and a career expo the night before the exam.

This year the grant sponsors 231 students and 27 teachers from nine schools 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 Thursday and Friday; dining hall lunch passes Friday; and 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 and diversity in scientific disciplines,” said Barbara Speziale, associate dean of undergraduate studies at Clemson, director of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute grants and biological sciences professor.




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