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'My heart belongs to science'

For kids elementary- through college-age, Linda Wozniewski engages young minds through fairs, Olympiads and more

Monday Apr 13, 2015

Today, the term STEM is common vernacular and young women, in particular, are being encouraged more than ever to explore careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Linda Wozniewski knows a thing or two about choosing a career in a field traditionally underrepresented by women. She was a woman in science long before it was fashionable to encourage girls to pursue science.

The chemistry and physics lecturer, and 26-year veteran of Indiana University Northwest, was hooked on science as a youngster fascinated with bugs. By high school, she was a full-fledged “science fair junkie.” As a girl among a sea of boys trying to impress the judges with their scientific know-how, this worked to her advantage in many ways. It was during her first Regional Science Fair representing Griffith High School that Wozniewski met her husband of 48 years.

So, when she says her heart belongs to the science fair, she isn’t kidding.

Wozniewski’s early science fair involvement also led to a rewarding career. She has led the Calumet Regional Science Fair at IU Northwest for the past 15 years, and she continues to judge the fair across the country.

About 20 years ago, when she was asked to develop an event for another popular science event, the Science Olympiad, she couldn’t refuse. She remains a national event supervisor for a forensics Science Olympiad event, “Science Crime Busters,” and is working on developing a brand-new event, “Potions and Poisons,” which is being piloted at select schools this year, including at IU’s state Science Olympiad in March. She is the National Chemistry Rules Committee Chairman.

Then came the FIRST Lego League, another endeavor in which kids build robots out of Legos and program them to conduct missions. Wozniewski has been involved with that for the past six years.

Wozniewski is as passionate about an IU as she is science. She holds three degrees from IU, a B.S. in chemistry, a master’s of business administration and a master of arts in teaching. She is working on a doctorate as well, finishing up a dissertation about the effectiveness of teaching physics online versus face-to-face instruction.

Wozniewski’s husband Jim is an IU alumnus and so are her son and daughter, both chemists. The grandkids are on their way to careers in science as well and are regulars at their respective school science fairs.

Perhaps even more profound than her family’s partiality to studying science at IU are the scores of students she has steered toward choosing IU Northwest for their educations.

“Part of the reason I do this stuff at IU Northwest,” she explained, “is that I want to get students from kindergarten through high school thinking about IU as their college. If I can get them coming here for the science fair and the Science Olympiad and the FIRST Lego league -- and we are going to start a new program called “You Be the Chemist ” -- the idea is to get these best and brightest students coming here, to IU Northwest, and thinking about this school as their school.”

As far as the quality of an IU Northwest education, Wozniewski boasts that nearly 98 percent of IU Northwest’s pre-professional students are placed in the graduate programs of their choice according to the school’s pre-professional advisors.

“We are able to do that because we have smaller classes,” she said. “We get to know the students. A science major here at IU Northwest has to have me at least four times for chemistry and physics. These students have not only had me as a teacher, but I have worked one-on-one and side-by-side with them.

“And they are my volunteers,” she continued. “It takes about 60 volunteers to run the science fair. It takes close to a hundred to run the Science Olympiad and FIRST Lego Leagues. All I have to do is email my former students as well as the ones I have here, and they are there for me.”

In addition to her many science talents, Wozniewski is also a certified air cooled mechanic. Known affectionately by their family and friends as “The Wiz of Woz,” the Wozniewskis also own an outdoor power equipment shop in Cedar Lake, which they’ve operated together since 1963.

At 67 years old, Wozniewski has no plans to retire.

“I am a teacher because I love to see the light bulbs go off over their heads,” she said. “It’s fun. That’s why I do it. I figure, when it’s not fun anymore I will retire but as long as it is fun, I am going to keep doing it.”

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