INSIDE MTSU: Professor's passion drives Science Olympiad

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A General Mills executive presents a $3,000 check to chemistry professor Patricia Patterson for the fifth annual Elementary Science Olympiad during a May 10, 2012, ceremony in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of MTSU News)
Saturday marked the 18th annual Regional Science Olympiad at MTSU, a day filled with anticipation, excitement and a full range of emotions for young and potential scientists.

More than 400 youngsters from 15 middle school and 14 high school teams brought their science, technology, engineering and math skills to the university.

“Crime Busters,” “Disease Detectives” and “Mousetrap Vehicle” were just three of the intriguing 46 events for the teams. An exciting awards ceremony in the ballroom of the new Student Union Building ended the day’s activities.

“If you could monitor the temperature on campus, it’s probably 100 fold,” Patricia Patterson said. “The temperature’s rising, the kids are here, as are the parents, coaches, event coordinators and other volunteers. It’s a dynamic process. It’s static.”

Fast forward to Saturday, May 4.

Hundreds of children will compete in the sixth annual Elementary Science Olympiad at John Pittard Elementary School in Murfreesboro.

If you think the middle and high school students were revved up for Saturday’s regional, just wait.

Patterson, who serves as event director for both Science Olympiads, says the third- through sixth-grade students “are really excited.”

The awards ceremony should be riveting as individuals and teams are recognized for their skills and achievements.

It is hard to find anyone more passionate about the Science Olympiad than Patterson, a 17-year university chemistry professor. She is in her 11th year as regional director and has participated in 14 of the 18 years the event has been held.

With a contagious smile and a gifted, fisherman-like ability to cast, catch and keep volunteers for both Science Olympiad tournaments, Patterson manages an efficient operation.

Monday, Patterson appeared on “Action Line,” a 50-minute daily radio program hosted by longtime WGNS Radio personality and owner Bart Walker. Every third Monday of the month, Walker allows MTSU the opportunity to be featured on three segments.

Patterson answered Walker’s questions for her 12- to 15-minute segment, but she could have carried the entire hour, or longer.  

The well-respected faculty member is a walking, talking encyclopedia for Science Olympiad. She even had a folder, marked with “WGNS” in large letters on the outside and full of material, in her black briefcase. She was ready.

Before the interview, Patterson was asked if she was ready for the Science Olympiad. “Oh, no!” she quickly exclaimed.

Patterson knows all the potential potholes in the road the week before the event: Adults and children can become ill, community volunteers can back out, students can decide they don’t need the extra credit Patterson dangles before them, and late February weather can be tricky.

With the strong backing of her husband, fellow chemistry faculty member Dwight Patterson, her colleagues across campus, the university administration and community supporters like General Mills and Murfreesboro City and Rutherford County schools, Patterson moves forward. It’s not about her; it’s about the children.

By 7:30 a.m. Saturday, you can bet Patterson was ready for the regional tournament. By 7:30 a.m. May 4, she’ll be ready again for the Elementary Science Olympiad.
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College of Basic and Applied Sciences, Education, MCS, MTSU, Murfreesboro, Patricia Patterson, RCS, Science, Science Olympiad, Technology
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