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Grant gives students shot at NASCAR training

KANNAPOLIS ó Some Rowan-Salisbury and Kannapolis middle schools will join a new project based at the N.C. Research Campus combining exercise science with the science behind NASCAR.
The $300,000 project, funded by a grant from the Golden Leaf Foundation, will focus on under-represented seventh and eighth grade students and their teachers.
Over several years, a total of 50 teachers and 1,500 students will participate. The project is designed to use NASCAR pit-crew activities as the catalyst to help students become more involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
ěIt makes learning fun,î said Dr. David Nieman, director of the Appalachian State University Human Performance Lab at the Research Campus. ěWe think we can improve student retention and help students who tend to drop out stay in school.î
Educators are betting on NASCARís popularity to help boost interest in science and math while promoting healthy lifestyles among the students. Middle schools in Cabarrus and Richmond counties also will participate.
Names of specific schools involved werenít available Thursday.
Everyone knows speed counts when it comes to winning NASCAR races, from the speed of the race cars to the speed in which pit crews refuel, retire and repair the cars.
Niemanís lab in Kannapolis will provide physical fitness testing and counseling to the teachers and students, just as his research team has been doing with NASCAR pits crews.
ěThrough our experience with Hendrick Motorsports, we know whatís important for pit crews in terms of physical fitness,î Nieman said in a press release.
Carrying too much fat has been the top problem affecting pit crew fitness and speed, he said, along with the need to boost endurance and efficient oxygen use, also known as aerobic power.
ěKnowing that can also translate to whatís important for the students,î Nieman said. ěIf we can instill a love of fitness and health in 1,500 kids in this area, that can multiple to their families and school systems and help lot of people turn the corner on fitness.î
A ěboot campî will be held at the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College at the Research Campus in July.
Researchers will test the participating teachersí physical fitness and train them on different STEM models under development by Discovery Place in Charlotte.
Eventually, the teachers will use these models in their classrooms.
At the end of the boot camp, teachers will compete in a pit crew challenge to reinforce the curriculum. They will have the assistance of an N.C. Motorsports Association member and a NASCAR pit crew team.
Teachers will begin implementing the project at their schools in August.
In addition to focusing on healthy diets and physical activity, students will learn the science behind motorsports ósuch as aerodynamics and Newtonís law of motion ó and compete in their own pit-crew challenge using a training apparatus they will build to simulate changing tires, pushing a car, jacking up a car and filling it with fuel.
The project is coordinated by Marjorie Benbow, executive director of the N.C. Biotechnology Centerís Greater Charlotte office.
ěMotorsports and biotechnology combined represent more than a $70 billion economic impact, including more than 250,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state ó jobs that require individuals who are proficient in science, technology, engineering and math,î Benbow said.
The project is the latest in a long-term partnership between the biotech center and NASCAR to foster math, science and technology education in the public schools, Benbow said.
ěIncreasing studentsí interests and proficiency in science and math through the lure and tradition of motorsports may help address the stateís urgent need for a professional workforce skilled in science and biotechnology,î she said.
The project is a collaboration among several organizations:
N.C. Biotechnology Center
Appalachian State Universityís Human Performance Lab on the Research Campus
N.C. Motorsports Association
Discovery Place in Charlotte
The motorsports engineering program at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Collaborators are providing in-kind support that equals the Golden Leaf $300,000 grant.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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