It is the timeless story about a teacher who made the difference. Dr. Shireen Haque credits her National Science Bowl® (NSB) championship and her coach with changing her life.
In 1994, Haque and her four teammates at Westminster School in Atlanta, Georgia won the National Science Bowl®. "The woman who ran the science bowl program at Westminster, Penny Sconzo, was the real inspiration about getting people on the science bowl team. She helped you see chemistry and science outside the textbook; she made it real and she made it fun," says Haque.
Interested students applied for the science bowl team and Sconzo selected members based on their academic record and interests. She recruited Haque, a tenth grader, for the team. "I didn't have time for close friends in my freshman or sophomore classes; I didn't go to social events.
"My parents were first generation immigrants and we had a family business that I worked in after school. But my participation on the science bowl team was an acceptable reason to stay at school," Haque recalls.
Haque still appreciates the support and energy that Ms. Sconzo offered her. "Those two hours – after school in Ms. Sconzo's room – were my support group; I didn't worry about home and the family business. She made it work out: staying for practice and getting rides. She took me under her wing. We kept in touch even after high school.
"For me, that science team made me feel that there was a way out, a way up – in a way that nothing else in high school really reached out to me. I was good at science; I loved science."
Haque remembers practicing with the team three or four afternoons a week; go over a topic, do drills, practice with each other, then study assigned topics over the weekend.
The team consisted of Haque, Susan Born, Renee Landrum, Peter Chan, and Si Hwang Chin. "Susan was the captain of the team. She could come up with things that no one else knew; she was the Google of information. Renee and Peter were really fast on the buzzer; Peter could buzz in and pronounce a completely correct answer after two to four words from the moderator. Si Hwang was good in physics. My forte was the biology stuff," says Haque. To build team spirit, they made tee-shirts and posters.
The competition was a long time ago and she has only one vivid memory of the final rounds in Washington, D.C.: "I do remember being in shock that we actually won," says Haque.
After high school, Haque won a scholarship to Barnard College. After graduating with her bachelor's degree in biology, she worked and traveled the world for three years. She then applied to Emory University where she received her master's in public health and her medical degree.
Today Haque is a board certified anesthesiologist and loves her work. "It's very physics- and chemistry-based – the physics of gases and how they affect the respiratory system."
Would she recommend the NSB for students today? "Absolutely! It is an excellent opportunity. It's not just the social aspect to finding your niche in high school. Especially after our NSB trip [Ed: First prize was participation in the International Wild Animal Research Week], to see what people were engaged in and the kinds of careers that you could do. It helped me see science in a more viable form; it wasn't abstract. It was real life. It made science much more alive for me."
Please go to Historical Information – National Finals – Profiles of Past Competitors to read more student stories about their NSB experiences.
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Sandra Allen McLean is a Communications Specialist in the Office of Science, email@example.com.