University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

School of Freshwater Sciences

Hooking them young: Creating a pipeline for advanced degrees and careers in freshwater

Lake Sturgeon Bowl participants visit the Robotics lab during an open house
at the School of Freshwater Sciences the night before the competition.
A crucial part of the mission of the School of Freshwater Sciences is to educate the future world water leaders in research, understanding, management and policy. In order to facilitate that mission, the school is involved in multiple ongoing recruiting initiatives aimed at attracting the nation’s best and the brightest high school and undergraduate students.
School of Freshwater Sciences faculty, students and staff dedicate much time and effort to planting the seed of science early on in a student’s education. “All of our undergraduate and high school outreach opportunities, including the Research Experience for Undergraduates and the Lake Sturgeon Bowl serve as a pipeline for marine science studies and careers,” says School of Freshwater Sciences senior scientist Dr. Russell Cuhel.

School of Freshwater Sciences PhD student Creston Flemming was one benefactor of the school’s outreach efforts. A three-time Lake Sturgeon Bowl competitor from Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Flemming says the experience helped determine his course of study. “It got me into science and gave me a chance to meet students from across the state – even from my own school – that I wouldn’t have met otherwise,” he says. Lake Sturgeon Bowl also provided Flemming with the focus and framework for his science education. “I’m a pretty competitive person and the Lake Sturgeon Bowl gave me a reason to study because I wasn’t very interested in grades at that point,” he says. Flemming went on to earn his bachelor’s in math, computer science and biochemistry at Drake University before joining the Dr. Matthew Smith lab at the School of Freshwater Sciences.

Dr. Russell Cuhel hosts a learning station at the SFS open house for Lake
Sturgeon Bowl competitors. Dr. Cuhel has served as a Lake Sturgeon Bowl
judge and advisor for more than a decade.

The outreach and recruiting efforts at the School of Freshwater Sciences is a natural fit with national science organizations like the National Ocean Science Bowl (NOSB). Part of the NOSB mission is to enrich science teaching and learning across the United States through a high-profile national competition.

The NOSB was created in 1998 to commemorate the International Year of the Ocean. Today, more than 2,000 students from over 300 schools across the country compete in 25 regional competitions with names like Tsunami Bowl (Alaska), Trout Bowl (Colorado) and Spoonbill Bowl (Florida). In Wisconsin, it is the Lake Sturgeon Bowl, which is coordinated by the UW-Milwaukee Schools of Freshwater Sciences and Continuing Education.

For Liz Sutton, UWM School of Continuing Education director of Water Education Outreach and Lake Sturgeon Bowl coordinator, the best thing about Lake Sturgeon Bowl is the camaraderie that builds among students because of science. “Every school has sports teams and music departments, but many times students interested in science don't have that same type of extracurricular team,” says Sutton. “Lake Sturgeon Bowl allows students to explore science and science careers as well as better understand the world around them.”
Teams are asked five rapid-fire questions during the the round-robin,
double-elimination Lake Sturgeon Bowl at the UW-Milwaukee School of
Continuing Education. The winning team moves on to the National Ocean
Science Bowl, which has been dominated by Marshfield High School in
Wisconsin for the last four years.

Each February, 23 teams from around Wisconsin compete in the round-robin, double-elimination Lake Sturgeon Bowl at the UW-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education. Teams of five answer timed critical-thinking challenges and rapid-fire questions like “Which forms of calcium carbonate are precipitated by living organisms?” and “Primary productivity in the world's arctic basins is often seasonal in nature due primarily to what environmental variability?” (Answers: “calcite and aragonite” and “oscillations in radiance”.)

The night before the competition, these aspiring scientists are invited to an open house at the School of Freshwater Sciences, where they get a chance to meet faculty and graduate students and learn about their research. “Our faculty really look forward to this opportunity to interact with the Lake Sturgeon Bowl competitors – many of whom might one day choose to study and work in the realm of freshwater,” says School of Freshwater Sciences Dean David Garman. “We hope to inspire them to consider graduate school and future careers in freshwater research and management, which will be one of the most vital industries of the future.”

Interestingly, Wisconsin has dominated recent national NOSB competitions. For four years in a row, the national masters of marine science have hailed from the small, land-locked community of Marshfield in central Wisconsin. From 2009 to 2012, a team of five from Marshfield High School won the regional competition of the National Ocean Science Bowl and then went on to greater glory as the national champions, beating out students from across the country for the title.

The streak was broken this year as another team from a small Wisconsin town, Spring Valley (pop. 1,352) will represent the region at the 2013 NOSB, hosted in Milwaukee for the first time in April. Spring Valley High School had long sat in the shadows of Marshfield’s success, finishing second to the Marshfield team six years in a row.

Test your knowledge with a question from the Lake Sturgeon Bowl:
“Which forms of calcium carbonate are precipitated by living organisms?” 
With four of five returning members, Spring Valley had been working since fall on the science and strategies. Their coach Michele Huppert had the team doing hour-long pre-class practices two mornings a week plus once- or twice-weekly after-school “buzzer practices” and team challenges. The tactic paid off, with Spring Valley winning its first regional title and now focusing on the national competition.

If not for Lake Sturgeon Bowl, many students – especially those from small Wisconsin communities – would not have exposure to the field of marine science. But event feedback shows that studying for and competing in the event triggers an interest in the field. According to the annual NOSB survey, 76 percent of last year’s Lake Sturgeon Bowl participants said the event helped them increase their interest in freshwater and ocean science. This same evaluation indicated 59% of students feel they are more likely to pursue a science career as well as found the competition helpful in their other classes.

While its name implies a purely oceanographic bent, regional and national NOSB competitions include freshwater topics, as well. And for the first time since its inception, the theme for the 2013 NOSB competition will be freshwater, specifically: “The Great Lakes: A Window into Freshwater Science.” Sutton is excited about the opportunity to host and highlight freshwater topics at the event April 18-21. “For the first time in 16 years, students from across the country are studying the Great Lakes. It’s a great opportunity for them to learn about the vastness and diversity of our inland seas,” she says.

This year’s NOSB theme will also allow School of Freshwater Sciences researchers and faculty to showcase their work in the field. Dr. Cuhel and School of Freshwater Sciences associate scientist Dr. Carmen Aguilar have served as NOSB guest experts and Lake Sturgeon Bowl judges and advisors for more than a decade and also treat the second-place team to a research expedition on the school’s research vessel, the Neeskay. “We’ll miss having Spring Valley on board this year,” jokes Dr. Aguilar.

The award for the top three to four teams at the NOSB Finals is an experiential trip that provides each NOSB team with a unique hands-on field and laboratory experience in the marine sciences. Past NOSB champions have had the opportunity to visit various marine research locations including Costa Rica, Bermuda, California and Florida. Last year, the team from Marshfield won a trip to Hawaii.
Since winning the regional competition, Spring Valley has stepped up its prep, meeting three mornings a week and an hour-and-a-half after school twice a week. “We are making a lot of flash cards, writing a lot of buzzer and team challenge questions, and also planning a [nature documentary] Blue Planet viewing marathon,” says coach Huppert.

The competition and the drills leading up to it are all part of the experience that NOSB hopes to create to engage young scientists. For Wisconsin schools like Marshfield and Spring Valley, it’s working. According to Spring Valley coach Huppert, “NOSB is one of the reasons our small school graduates a high percentage of students pursuing further educations in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics].” For now, Spring Valley is focusing on carrying on the Wisconsin legacy.