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FULL CIRCLE — local students celebrate Pi day at Clarkson

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POTSDSAM — There was a high ratio of fun to hard work at Clarkson University on Wednesday.

“It is fun to be here,” said Olivia Baker, a student at Hermon-DeKalb Central School. “I’ve learned the numbers of pi. That is something I didn’t know before.”

To be fair, Ms. Baker didn’t learn all of the infinite digits of pi at Clarkson’s Pi Day, but she did learn a lot.

Pi Day, an informal recognition of pi, the ratio between a circle’s diameter and its circumference estimated at 3.14, is usually celebrated on March 14.

“The mathematician in me says 3.14 is an approximation anyway,” said Peter R. Turner, dean of arts and sciences. “So we’re making an approximation of approximation.”

Pi Day was first celebrated in 1988. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to recognize it in 2009.

Mr. Turner said Clarkson has celebrated Pi Day for five years.

“I think this is the biggest one yet,” he said.

Middle and high school students from Potsdam, Norwood-Norfolk, St. Lawrence, Harrisville, Heuvelton, Ogdensburg, Colton-Pierrepont, Hermon-DeKalb, Edwards-Knox and Carthage central schools attended the event, along with the Akwesasne Boys & Girls Club.

The students circulated through Snell Hall, snacking on cupcakes and pizza while engaging in more than 30 different activities, each illustrating a different component or application of Pi.

At one table, students had to estimate how far back a catapult had to be cocked to accurately launch a ball into a bucket. Austin Smith, Buffalo, a Clarkson mechanical engineering major, explained that the arc of the catapult’s arm could be described as a segment of a circle.

“I am an initiate in the mechanical engineers honors society,” he said. “We have a community service requirement, and this is part of it.”

The catapult activity was a favorite of Jack Lennon, a student at Edwards-Knox Central School, Russell.

“I haven’t done everything, but so far it is the catapult thing,” he said. “I learned that pi has a lot to do with circles.”

Nearby, Eric E. Fredette, an engineering student from Berlin, N.H., was wiping shaving cream from his face.

“The game here is we challenge students to calculate the area of a circle,” he said. “If they get it right, they get to throw a shaving cream pie at me. I’m having a blast, and it seems like the kids like it.”

The activities were thought up by Clarkson students, said physics professor Michael W. Ramsdell, who helped organize Wednesday’s event.

“Their response is fantastic. They come up with great ideas,” he said. “The children get to interact with Clarkson students, and then they interact with each other. They come together and tell each other about what they’ve learned.”

Clarkson mathematics professor Kathleen R. Fowler, another event organizer, said Pi Day was another tool used by Clarkson to get young students enthusiastic about math and science.

“There’s educational research showing students lose interest in math and science by middle school,” she said. “We want to get students active while they’re learning.”

Mr. Turner, the dean, said Pi Day is part of Clarkson’s science, technology, engineering and math pipeline to funnel more north country students into in-demand fields.

“Ultimately, it is just another piece,” he said. “If we end up with some number of these students at Clarkson, that’s just a bonus. Down the road, maybe some of these students will become math and science teachers in our schools here.”

Pi Day is sponsored by the Clarkson University IMPETUS Program through a $234,000 STEP grant from the State Education Department. IMPETUS, short for Integrated Math and Physics for Entry to Undergraduate STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, Mathematics), is a cooperation among Clarkson, the St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services and the STEM Partnership. The program offers day camps, after-school programs and tutoring to local public school students. The event is held in partnership with the SUNY Potsdam STEP program.

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