Hundreds of Wisconsin middle and high school students gathered at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday April 7, 2018 for the annual Wisconsin Science Olympiad (WSO) state tournament. WSO is a non-profit organization with a mission to promote STEM education for students in Wisconsin K-12 schools by engaging communities in the thrill, excitement and challenge of science, technology, engineering and math competition.
Epidemiologists from the Center of Clinical Epidemiology and Population Health (CCEPH) joined with hundreds of other volunteers to offer their expertise and time to support the STEM educational efforts of WSO. CCEPH scientists have written the Disease Detectives exam and supervised the event at the state tournament for over ten years. Huong McLean, PhD, MPH, wrote this year's exam. Jennifer King, MPH and Kayla Hanson, MPH helped develop and refine the test and assisted the day of the tournament by checking in students, monitoring and grading the exam and calculating official scores.
The exam is designed to test middle and high schoolers' skills in tracking a disease outbreak, with this year's focus on foodborne illnesses. Students typically work in pairs and are asked to imagine they are part of a team deployed to investigate a disease. They must answer questions about types of surveillance best suited for the situation, examine disease trends, calculate risks tied to eating certain foods and identify appropriate disease control measures, all as a real field epidemiologist would. The Disease Detectives event is one of many with students going on to compete in other STEM competitions and culminating in a grand awards ceremony.