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OFA team wins Clarkson coaster competition


POTSDAM — Goldfish, starfish, jellyfish, seashells and seaweed set the theme for the first-place roller coaster model at Clarkson University’s 7th annual Roller Coaster Competition through the Integrated Math and Physics for Entry to Undergraduate STEM Program.

The entire room applauded at the announcement that eighth and ninth graders Katelin L. Gardener, her sister Chelsea M., Courtney M. Loffler and Shawn P. Rubin would take the trophy back to Ogdensburg Free Academy for the second straight year.

The team said each member picked two themes, but they ultimately went with “Under the Sea.”

Using paper cutouts of fish, fake plants and seashells, they decorated their coaster design, which they constructed from Styrofoam tubes.

“We really put our effort into it and that’s really all that matters,” Katelin said.

The competition is the finale event of Clarkson’s yearlong IMPETUS Program, which consists of several math and science projects and learning opportunities for high school students throughout the year. Michael W. Ramsdell, Clarkson assistant professor of physics and co-coordinator of the competition, said the students start working on their roller coaster designs in September.

“With a program like this, the students get to do a design, see what other groups come up with and get immediate feedback,” he said. The models all had different themes and many were constructed out of recycled materials like Styrofoam, paper towel tubes and other cardboard items. Mr. Ramsdell said the roller coasters were judged on longest time, loops, support structure and track openness.

The competition drew the largest participation to date, with 11 districts represented and 18 different models.

“We think roller coasters are a nice way to get students interested in math and science,” said Katie R. Fowler, director of Clarkson’s Science and Technology Entry Program. “It’s critical that we have these programs, especially in Northern New York where we’re very rural and isolated. In our area there are a lot of potential first-generation college students, so we think having them come here to work with our students, some of whom are local, gives them the idea that this is something they can do.”

Mary Margaret M. Small, program director for Clarkson’s Office of Educational Partnerships, helped coordinate the event. “This gives students the opportunity to apply the knowledge they learn in class,” she said.

Nine students for Gouverneur Central built a red, white and blue coaster design called “The Skyway.” It featured a white picket fence and gingerbread men.

The students’ coach, Bonnie M. Bates, a teacher’s aide at Gouverneur Central School, said the students picked a theme to honor a friend who died in January. Ms. Bates said Skyler Way graduated from Gouvernuer Central in 2012 and joined the military but was killed in a car accident in Camp Lejeune, N. C., where he was stationed.

“We lost a student who was really close with us, so we did the red, white and blue because he was a marine,” eighth grader Morgan J. Prashaw said.

A team from Colton-Pierrepont Central won second place for a Batman-themed design, while a squad from Hermon-DeKalb won third place for an Alice in Wonderland theme.

To watch video of the Roller Coaster Competition, visit

Clarkson University holds 7th annual Roller Coaster Competition
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