A Zombie Apocalypse Summer

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Summer is the time for sun and fun and cookouts  . . .  and stopping a zombie apocalypse, of course.  Well, maybe that last part is not for everyone, but students in the Sandusky City Schools Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies had that very opportunity through the Dorn Fellowship program which is a partnership between Sandusky City Schools, Bowling Green State University Firelands College, and BGSU.  The program is funded by the Dorn Foundation.

Hosted on the BGSU Firelands campus, the innovative program was developed for gifted students to experience a college environment and broaden academic learning.

“The zombie apocalypse was a creative framework to provide students learning experiences in the areas of criminal justice, chemistry, biology, and anatomy,” said BGSU Firelands lecturer Tracey McGinley, one of the driving forces behind the themed week and last year’s Dorn Fellowship program theme, “A Murder Mystery.”

Although the topics may sound morose, they cleverly intertwine the academic disciplines with topics which intrigue the students who range from 3rd to 8th grades.

“Zombies are pretty cool,” says Kaeley Schonhardt, a 6th grade student in the Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies, who admits she does watch the Walking Dead. “We never do stuff like this at our schools and the labs here are amazing.  This is a great opportunity,” she said.

“We had more students this year and a wider age range, so it was challenging to identify and offer educational experiences and opportunities which appealed to all groups,” added McGinley.

At the beginning of the week, the students were provided a scenario in which they are charged by the President of the United States to aid him in stopping the spread of a zombie apocalypse.  The eager students then spent the week studying the related issues and developing solutions, often utilizing ‘real world’ and timely topics to support their research.

“We did an excavation of bones that helped us determine the gender, age, blood type, height, and even the job of a zombie victim,” said 8th grade student Jacob Cuevas of Sandusky Middle School who, in the scenario, was part of a group representing the Center for Disease Control.

Cuevas finished his week-long project by presenting a policy to the President on how to manage a zombie apocalypse.  He and his group used the real world example of anthrax infections as a model for their policy.

Students also conducted water sampling test and algal bloom research in the lakes and ponds of BGSU Firelands' arboretum.  In the scenario, it was believed algal blooms may have caused the zombie apocalypse.

“We did a lot of chemistry and microbiology research,” said Schonhardt. “That was my favorite part.”  Her group was charged with finding a serum to help cure those already infected by the zombie apocalypse.

Throughout the week, students were thoroughly engaged in the project and certainly enjoyed the theme.  Several also expressed their excitement over making new friends.  According to the organizers, however, the event fulfilled a much more important social need.

“We want students to gain the confidence to be successful in college and their future careers,” said Sandusky City Schools Coordinator for Advanced Academics and Learning Supports Tara Toft.  “Many of them will be first generation college students, so early exposure to the college environment and continuous encouragement is critical,” she added.

Student found that support and encouragement from a variety of BGSU Firelands and BGSU staff members who participated in the week-long event.  Faculty advisors included BGSU Firelands McGinley, criminal justice, Seth Gardner and Christine Genovese, biology, Subha Nagarajan, chemistry; and BGSU faculty member Matt Partin, marine biology.

“Several of the faculty members volunteered their time and the success of this event was possible only through their dedicated efforts,” said McGinley.

Gardner admitted that he is already looking forward to the Dorn Fellowship program next year.  According to him, the group has not even begun to plan the theme, but he quickly added, “Everybody loves pirates, right?”

(Sandusky City Schools Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies is testing from July 13-16 for admissions into the school for the 2015-2016 academic year.  For more details, contact  the Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies at 419.984.1349 or visit the Sandusky City Schools website at http://www.sandusky-city.k12.oh.us/)