GENIUS Olympiad to Draw Young Researchers, Artists to Campus

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Fehmi Damkaci aims to attract high school GENIUSes from around the globe to do research and artwork on environmental issues, and to have the top ones spend five days in Oswego next summer showing what young brainpower can accomplish.

GENIUS Olympiad logoDamkaci, assistant professor and graduate coordinator of chemistry, is spearheading the first GENIUS Olympiad - it stands for Global Environmental Issues U.S. - the next step in his effort to encourage younger students to discover the excitement and discipline of scientific research and solutions.

"Every year, the research component has been increasing in high schools," Damkaci said. "This will be another outlet for young scientists."

He said the idea for the GENIUS Olympiad spun off in part from the Summer Science Immersion program he helped found here with the Syracuse Academy of Science in 2009 and in part from other Olympics-themed competitions, such as Intel Science Olympiads.

Like the other competitions, GENIUS will offer scholarships, prizes and medals to student researchers whose projects are judged best in their categories. Unlike the others, SUNY Oswego is trying to fuse science and art for a June 26 to 30 celebration of youthful initiative and creativity.

"We are consulting with an artist to help define how to integrate art into the competition," Damkaci said. "We defined categories of the art: cartoon, short film and animation, graphic poster and installation art."

Benefits to SUNY Oswego and the surrounding community would include increased interest in the college among top students in sciences and arts as well as exposure for area tourism, he said.

The competition's website, which launched last summer, invites high school students, with the help of advisers, to submit research projects for consideration in ecology and biodiversity, resources and energy, environmental quality, human ecology and in a special contemporary category, removal of oil from water.

An advisory board that so far includes Interim Provost Lorrie Clemo and representatives from science departments, Campus Life and the Office of Business and Community Relations has put out the call for preregistrations.

Specific research project applications are due in February.

Damkaci said the competition already has received expressions of interest from a dozen high schools in countries as far flung as the Philippines and India, Russia and Mozambique.

"We want to attract entries from at least 20 countries, with two high schools represented from each country," Damkaci said. "We also want entrants from 20 to 30 states, with two to three schools per state."

Fundraising is key. Damkaci is applying for grants from the National Science Foundation and American Chemical Society and seeking donor gifts.

He said pledges already total $25,000, and he is working on in-kind contributions. He has a commitment worth about $20,000 for website development, catalog design and scholarly poster printing from a New York City-based company, he said.

The competition's busy agenda will include science talks and ceremonies in the Campus Center auditorium as well as poster and art exhibits in Hewitt Union, all open to the public. The invited visitors will have social events and trips to places like Niagara Falls.

With immense optimism, Damkaci continues to make scores of contacts on and off campus, at home and abroad. "Whomever I talk with about this competition gets excited," he said.

— Jeff Rea '71




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