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Crystal Award recipient builds community through Science Olympiad team

February 6, 2020
Will Kopachik during his interview at Espresso Royale on Feb. 3, 2020.
Will Kopachik during his interview at Espresso Royale on Feb. 3, 2020. —
Photo by Kaishi Chhabra | The State News

Nominated for his efforts in fostering a hands-on science experience for East Lansing High School students, Will Kopachik — a retired Michigan State faculty member and tenured associate professor in MSU’s Department of Integrative Biology — accepted a Crystal Award from the City of East Lansing in 2019. 

According to the city’s website, community members are encouraged to nominate “unsung heroes of East Lansing” to be granted this award. Nominations are reviewed by a community selection committee and four participants are selected annually. As stated in the selection criteria, those recipients demonstrate “a passion for and commitment to creating a healthy and vibrant community and serve as an inspiration to others.”

Kopachik was one of three individuals recognized in 2019, due to his dedication to coaching the Science Olympiad team at East Lansing High School, or ELHS, which he founded in 2015.

“It was a big surprise to me,” Kopachik said. “In fact, the people that nominated me kept me in the dark … By some ruse, they took me there (and said) that the award was going to be given to somebody else.”

At the time, Kopachik said his daughter was a student at the high school, interested in learning more about science. After meeting with her biology teacher, John Heinrich, and inquiring as to whether the school hosted a science fair, Heinrich suggested he start his own Science Olympiad team.

For three years prior, Kopachik said he had planned and organized a “Science-palooza” event at MacDonald Middle School, giving students an opportunity to present personal science experiments to an audience of judges.

In previous years, ELHS has placed a strong emphasis on its sports teams, Kopachik said. Because of this fact, one goal of Science Olympiad is to provide opportunities to those who may not be “sports-inclined.”

“In all these different events, they get a chance to learn things which are really current and you can see it build up their interests,” Kopachik said. “It’s personally very fulfilling to see something like that.”

Kopachik said he’s noticed a strong sense of community throughout his years of living in East Lansing

“You can go to (any magazine) and they’ll have a list of the top 10, top 25 best places to live in the United States,” Kopachik said. “All of their metrics are based on things like the median family income, how much the houses cost — things which really aren’t as valuable as living in a place which has community where people care about each other.”

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