Meeting the disease detectives

CHS students, teachers travel to CDC after winning national competition

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Marcus Bintz and Rachel Fadlovich of Camas beat out more than 70,000 competitors to win the National Science Olympiad “Disease Detectives” competition. In addition, they are the youngest pair to ever capture the title.

“It’s incredible,” said Ron Wright, Camas High School Science Olympiad advisor. “These two young people are the 2012 National champions. And neither was a senior when they did this.”

Fadlovich, 15, is now a junior and Bintz, 17, is a senior. Both have participated in Science Olympiad since they were in middle school. The prize for winning nationals was an all-expenses -paid trip to see the real “disease detectives,” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.

“Marcus had set this as a personal goal as a middle school student when he first heard that the CDC offered the free trip to the high school winners,” Wright said. “Rachel came to our team from middle school where she also enjoyed success in this event. The joining of two wills-to-win occurred before our very eyes.”

The trip to the CDC last month also included two CHS teachers, Jennifer Dean, a Science Olympiad coach, and Advanced Placement biology teacher Brianna Abraham.

“They are pretty incredible students,” said Dean. “To go from not even having a Science Olympiad team at CHS to winning a national championship is pretty impressive.”

Abraham agreed.

“It’s a testament to their dedication and hard work,” she said.

At nationals, Fadlovich and Bintz took a written test.

Each of the 60 teams were allowed one page of notes. Bintz and Fadlovich used those for writing down details such as dates and times of various disease outbreaks.

“One of the functions of the notes is to allow participants to get to the real substance of the test,” Bintz said.

This year’s competition focused on food borne illnesses and outbreaks. The teams were presented with a few different scenarios, and the goal was to evaluate the study and do an investigation.

When it came time for the results, Fadlovich and Bintz grew increasingly disappointed when they didn’t hear their names in the top 10, then the top five.

“I just started to tune it out and thought, ‘well, there goes that,’” Fadlovich said.

Then, they heard their names announced as first-place winners.

“I was in disbelief,” Bintz said. “It was astounding.”

“I didn’t expect first,” Fadlovich said. “I wasn’t expecting it at all.”

The two winners and their teachers enjoyed the fruits of their labor with a whirlwind day at CDC and behind-the-scenes tour. It included breakfast with the acting chief science officer for epidemiology and laboratory services, a seminar about the national salmonella outbreak in 2011, an emergency operation center tour, a career choices presentation, museum tour and dinner.

The evening concluded with a meeting with Steve Thackers, the deputy director for surveillance, epidemiology and laboratory services.

“I thought it was incredible,” Dean said. “From touring the emergency operations center to the one-on-one attention from the staff and learning all the different career choices at CDC.”

Abraham added it was nice to take what she had learned at CDC and apply it in her classroom teaching.

“What I thought the CDC did was not at all what they actually do, so it was nice to have examples to bring back,” she said.

Before the trip, she had assumed that the CDC focused on curing diseases, but it also emphasizes education and prevention, and employs people in many different fields besides science.

Fadlovich’s favorite part of the trip was meeting the Epidemic Intelligence Service officers.

“They are the closest thing to disease detectives there is,” she said. “It twas interesting to see how you could get into CDC without a medical background.”

Bintz agreed.

“They all did radically different things,” he said. “Some are doing work with HIV/AIDS prevention in Africa, while others work on STD education in America, and still others work with Native American tribes. There are so many people involved with public health.”

Wright said he was very proud of Bintz and Fadlovich.

“The trip to CDC was everything they all had hoped,” he said. “Ralph (Cordell) and the folks at CDC were wonderful in taking care of our people. We cannot thank them enough for this rare opportunity to see how the real scientific world works in day-to-day world-level problems.”