Newswise — In the 1990s, Dean Jens and Doug Fuller were high school students playing on teams from Ankeny High School that were competing to secure coveted spots in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl (NSB) ® competition. Today, they’re professionals, fathers, and devoted alumni whose annual volunteer commitment to the NSB allows them to give back to a competition that helped shape their lives. Jens was a member of the Ankeny, Iowa, High School Science Bowl team from 1991 to 1993. His team, which also included his twin brother, Steve, is remembered as one of the most competitive teams to participate in Ames Laboratory’s Regional High School Science Bowl. Jens’ Ankeny team won the Iowa regional twice, which allowed them to represent Iowa in the NSB in Washington, D.C. Although his team missed taking home the coveted championship trophy, Jens says the overall experience was worth every minute. “We were surrounded by all of these other students who were enthusiastic about science, and it was a great opportunity to chat with many of them. We had many enjoyable interactions both during the competition and during the wrap-up banquet.” In 1999, Jens was pulled back to NSB but this time while a college student studying physics at Princeton University in New Jersey. “I’d heard my former coach, Mark Maffett, was bringing an Ankeny High School team to nationals so I hopped on a bus to the 4-H Center (the competition site in Washington, D.C. ) and followed the team around a bit,” Jens said.

It was also during that trip that he bumped into Sue Ellen Walbridge, former NSB coordinator, who remembered him from earlier competitions. “If I’d have known you were coming, I’d have put you to work,” Walbridge told Jens, and she did just that the very next year. “I was one of eight alumni in 2000, the first year of the alumni volunteer program, and I worked as a moderator and science judge,” said Jens.

In the 15 years since, Jens has continued to volunteer at NSB by reviewing questions, briefing students on rules and training new alumni. He’s also served as moderator and judge, including performing those duties during the suspense-filled NSB Finals competition. “I’ve loved being close to Science Bowl all these years,” said Jens. Doug Fuller participated on the Ankeny High School team that advanced to the NSB in 1999. In 2000, he became an undergraduate student at Iowa State University (ISU), where he earned both his B.S. and M.S. degrees. During those years, Fuller also worked part-time at Ames Laboratory in the high-performance computing area, a job he says he got after being introduced to former Ames Laboratory scientist, Ricky Kendall, while both were participating in volunteer training for the Ames Laboratory Science Bowl.

From 2000 to 2005, Fuller was a regular volunteer for the Ames Laboratory High School Science Bowl, and these days he continues to moderate and judge for his now home-state competition, the Tennessee Science Bowl. Fuller moved to Tennessee to work as a computational scientist at DOE’s Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility and currently works for a software company.

Each April, however, his attention turns to NSB and the opportunity it brings to volunteer, meet the student competitors, and catch up with alumni. “Returning to the national event has always been meaningful to me,” said Fuller. “Originally it was a great way to talk with students about what I had learned doing undergraduate research, pursuing internships and fellowships, and looking at graduate schools. Later it became an opportunity for me to share my experiences working at universities, DOE laboratories and in the private sector.”

And if he had any advice to offer students competing in NSB, Fuller says it would be to stick with science. “I’d say learning about science is just the beginning of a career in a STEM-related field. Science Bowl encourages that, but it also encourages making the kinds of connections you need in order to apply your learning to an almost impossibly vast world of career options.”

Both Jens and Fuller say they plan to continue as NSB volunteers for the long term. “It’s a ‘can’t miss’ tradition,” said Fuller.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

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