MORRISTOWN, NJ - Seventh grader Gavin Varneckas will represent the State of NJ in the You Be the Chemist National Challenge in Washington D.C. this June. In March, nine FMS students qualified for the Morris County competition; Gavin and classmate Anna Hong were among the top scorers in the county, moving on to the NJ State competition at BASF on April 13. There, Varneckas earned the highest score in all of New Jersey.
Sponsored by the Chemical Educational Foundation, the You Be the Chemist Challenge is a national competition and program for middle school students, designed to celebrate and inspire interest in the ongoing study of chemistry and in careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Students participate in multilevel individual competitions, first at their school, then locally, and finally at the state level. The top scorer in each state advances to the national challenge as part of a three-day event highlighting the field of chemistry and connecting students to industry professionals.
Varneckas is no stranger to STEM competitions; just a couple of weeks ago, he and fellow students from the FMS Technology Student Association won multiple awards--the most of any school in NJ--at the NJ State Technology Student Association Conference at the College of New Jersey. Varneckas and teammate Chris Cioffi placed third in the Forensic Technology category.
“I really love science and math. I find competitions fun and interesting; it’s a fun way to gain knowledge," said Varnackas.
Students in the Morris School District experience a full trajectory of STEM education, beginning in the earliest grades and culminating in cutting-edge programs at the high school level, including the prestigious STEM Academy at Morristown High School.
According to Brian Young, District Supervisor of PreK-12 STEM, students gain integrated learning opportunities both inside and outside the classroom that emphasize investigation, experimentation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and real- world application.
At Frelinghuysen Middle School, where Varnackas attends seventh grade, students have access to an unusually wide array of STEM electives: Computer Science for Innovators and Makers, Engineering Innovations, Foundations of STEM, Industrial Wood Design, Integrated Robotics and Engineering Design, and Navigating Digital Systems. Beginning in 2019-2020, an elective in App Creators will be added to this impressive roster. After-school STEM clubs expand students’ interests outside of the classroom through community projects and competitions. These include a chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers as well as the Technology Student Association.
Ultimately, confirms Mr. Young, students emerge from the Morris School District with exceptional preparation for highly selective college STEM programs, “future-ready and capable of tackling real-world issues.”
One can hardly imagine a better training ground for students like Gavin who are deeply passionate about STEM.