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  March 25, 2002

Odyssey Day Showcases Faculty to
Talented Middle School Students
By Allison Thompson

The average age on campus dropped dramatically on March 16, as nearly 100 middle school students came to take a first peek at college life.

The students and their parents came to campus to hear from more than 20 of UConn's brightest stars. The presentation, called Odyssey Day, was sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth and drew gifted and talented students from throughout New England and New York.

In the day's keynote address, Sam Pickering spoke to the teens about the joy of learning.

"Taking joy in learning will lead you to participate in life," said Pickering, a professor of English.

Learning allows people to develop confidence and expands the world, he added. "You will learn that there is so much you don't know that you will rarely be bored."

As the students separated into small groups to hear presentations offered by nine faculty members, they seemed to take Pickering's exhortation to cultivate their curiosity to heart. The presentations, covering topics from diplomacy and parasites to the eye's rod cells and poetry, were structured to appeal to teenagers and expose them to the wide range of subjects in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

In one morning presentation, more than a dozen students gathered around Robert Thorson, a professor of geology and geophysics, as he discussed stone walls. The popular structures are built as boundaries and are also a way for landowners to clear rocks off their property, he said.

Dumping a bag of rocks on the floor, Thorson encouraged the students to measure the surface area of the stones in different configurations, before building a miniature stone wall. What looked like child's play was actually a lesson in the properties of a stone wall.

As they worked, the students learned that individual rocks in the walls slant towards each other, the walls slope on the sides, and a heavy stone is always placed on top. The properties of a well-built stone wall are the same as the properties of a good erosional mountain range, Thorson said.

Jaclyn Schlup, 12, a student at Woodbury Middle School, said she found the presentation informative, particularly since she may be interested in a career in architectural design.

Liam Mclaughlin, 13, an eighth-grader at Mansfield Middle School, said, "I learned a lot about geological structure. It made me want to go outside."

After a musical performance by the group Creative Opportunity Workshop, led by Earl MacDonald, an assistant professor of music, the students and their parents again selected from nine presentations for the afternoon.

In one afternoon session, Thomas Seery, an associate professor of chemistry, taught Mclaughlin and other

students how to make slime. Moving between a lab table and a dry-erase board, Seery explained how some of the molecules in Elmer's glue and Borax bond to form the gooey concoction.

"It should be slimy and drippy," Seery said as his students made slime out of glue, Borax, and water.

Other students learned about psychology from Michelle Williams, an assistant professor. Williams spoke to the teens and their parents about influential studies in psychology, ranging from those that looked at persuasion to others that examined how personality is formed.

Afterwards, 12-year-old Samantha Singer of Bow, N.H., said her career aspirations were clearer. "I want to be a psychologist now," she said. "Dr. Williams made it more interesting."

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