Environmental educators at USC have been showing the university's research facilities on Catalina Island to hundreds of students from middle schools and high schools since the conclusion of the 2010 QuikSCience Challenge, a team competition designed to spark the interest of young people in science.
The event features an extended stay at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center for the teams that won first and second place. It also offered something new — a one-day trip to the island for every team that submitted a complete project.
The competition this year drew a record number of entries, with 49 teams submitting complete projects. USC staff made good on the QuikSCience Challenge offer, organizing trips for almost 300 students and 50 teachers across the San Pedro Channel to the USC research center near the island community of Two Harbors.
"A lot more student teams registered this year, and a lot more turned in projects," said Lynn Whitley, director of pre-college education for the USC College's Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.
The trips began in the spring and will continue until mid-July.
The QuikSCience Challenge is managed by the USC Wrigley Institute in cooperation with Quiksilver Inc., an international producer and distributor of surfing apparel, and the Quiksilver Foundation. As part of their competition in the event, teams of middle school and high school students create projects and portfolios on an ocean science subject. They also put together an ocean science lesson plan that they teach to another class, and they carry out a community service project and propose a solution to an environmental challenge. (The high school teams also create a research project proposal.) The teams wrap up their projects with creative presentations to a panel of judges.
This year's event had a number of firsts, one of them being a winning entry from outside Southern California.
A science teacher and a team of six students from Kamehameha High School in Honolulu won first place for high school teams. The Hawaiian team focused on the problem of invasive marine plants in coastal waters, particularly the problems caused in Hawaii by prolific seaweed known as "gorilla ogo."
"The winning project was outstanding," Whitley said. "The students wrote an excellent research proposal and organized a public service project that had a direct connection to the local community. The quality of the project was clear even though the students were 2,500 miles away. We're excited to think this might be a sign that we can widen the geographic scope of the QuikSCience Challenge."
The Kamehameha students will stay at the Wrigley Marine Science Center June 7-11 and then will visit the USC campus and spend one night in campus dorms before flying back to Hawaii.
This year's science challenge also benefited from a new QuikSCience Mentors Club, a group of 13 graduate and undergraduate students at USC who provided assistance to the high school and middle school students to help them with their projects. The USC mentors provided assistance on science matters related to the student projects and sometimes traveled to participating schools to work directly with the student teams.
The challenge of carrying this year’s participants to Catalina Island has been met by the daily boat service the Wrigley Institute started last year aboard the vessel Zephyrus. The Zephyrus can carry 20 passengers, and that service was expanded this year with the lease of the vessel Miss Christi, which carries up to 50 passengers. The extra capacity helps the Wrigley Institute staff provide transportation for several student teams and their teachers on each trip.
The Miss Christi was leased to carry a growing number of USC students and faculty to and from the Wrigley Marine Science Center.
The high school winners for this year's competition were Kamehameha High School (first place), and Santa Monica High School and Chadwick School in Palos Verdes (tied for second place). The middle school winners were Eastshore in Irvine (first place) and St. Margaret's Episcopal Middle School in San Juan Capistrano (second place).