The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

Mark Simonson

March 15, 2014

Teacher developed Oneonta's science fairs in the late 1930s

Enthusiasm toward science, engineering and technology abounds these days among our area’s youth, as teams such as Sidney Project Lead the Way and Otsego 4-H FIRST Robotics, also known as “RoboKronos,” have been busy preparing and competing in meets in Binghamton and Troy, with robots they created.

The same kind of enthusiasm toward chemistry existed 75 years ago this month among our area high schoolers, with the beginning of what was called a “Chem Congress.”

The Oneonta Daily Star reported on Thursday, March 9, 1939, “A chemistry congress, which is a new type of educational project for this area, will be held at Oneonta high school Saturday, March 25, under the supervision of Mrs. Madeleine F. Coutant, chemistry instructor. Hartwick college will co-operate, and members of the High school Chem squad will assist.” Coutant began teaching in Oneonta in 1931.

“Students from the college and four or more high schools will give lecture demonstrations, and pupils from at least 10 other high schools will attend and take part in a discussion of the demonstrations and other matters of interest. A local amateur operator will set up a radio station and demonstrate the sending of messages to other amateurs in the community.”

Oneonta High School was then found on Academy Street, and reports didn’t mention whether the event was held in the auditorium or gymnasium, but wherever it was held it was crowded, as the first Chem Congress drew more than 350 students and teachers.

“While Mrs. Coutant … had general supervision over the program,” The Oneonta Herald reported on March 30, “the congress was almost entirely initiated, planned, and produced by the students. Keen interest was shown by the visitors, who came from as far away as Schenectady, Binghamton, Manlius, Delhi and Prattsville. Practically all vicinity high schools were represented.”

Scientific books were awarded to students who were judged to have contributed the most to the success of the first event.

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Mark Simonson

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