The Science of Serving: Lyons-Decatur senior finds passion, purpose in the lab

The Science of Serving: Lyons-Decatur senior finds passion, purpose in the lab

By Tyler Dahlgren

NCSA Communications Specialist

Students like Brock Vetick don’t come along often, and it didn’t take Lyons-Decatur Northeast science teacher Paul Timm more than 10 minutes to sense his incredible potential.

“I could instantly see that he was interested,” Timm said. “I could also see that he had the skill set that could be easily developed.”

That was more than five years ago, when Vetick was just a seventh-grade student in the small, northeast Nebraska K-12 public school. Timm wasn’t wrong. Vetick, who is nearing graduation, has put together an astonishing list of academic and extracurricular accomplishments.

Vetick, a state Speech champion in the “Extemporaneous” category, serves as Vice President of the Nebraska FFA Organization and was selected to attend Boys State through the local VFW. He plays in the band and participates in one-act plays.

You could say the road to his greatest accomplishment, however, began in that seventh-grade classroom. Vetick, who has had Timm as an instructor all the way through middle and high school, took home Top of Fair honors at the Greater Nebraska Science and Engineering Fair in March. For the second straight year in a row.

Vetick was floored with excitement both times, but he’s not sure if his enthusiasm matched that of his mentor, who had never qualified a student for the finals before.

“It was just plain cool both times,” Vetick said. “The first year, I was standing up there while they were announcing and all of a sudden my name was called and I was blown away. This year, it was so surreal, even the fact that I was able to qualify again. It was complete excitement and elation both times.”

Timm points out the tougher field of competition that Vetick was up against, a positive sign for the field of science, which has seen an upswing in interest. It’s not an easy thing to become involved in, for students or teachers, most of whom are not mentored in professional programs designed to familiarize educators with the process. Across the state, science has been picking up steam, thanks to teachers mentoring other teachers.

The title alone for Vetick’s project this year would make the average head spin. “The Effects of Auxins and Cytokinins on the Survival of Azospirillum lipoferum and Azospirillum brasilense and Root Colonization of Zea mays”. It’s high level science. Studies that had never been conducted before.

“It’s just really been wonderful having those hands-on experiences, and there is another dynamic that I see involved,” Vetick said. “You are not only in the lab doing the hands-on, you’re doing something you are passionate about that you want to do. In chemistry, it’s fun to pour chemicals together and catch something on fire, but when you are deciding what the experiment is, that’s what I like about it. I see that as the “A HA!” moment of the science research, and that can really engage students.”

Timm could tell Vetick was engaged in the subject matter from the start. The two haven’t stopped discovering since. As a sophomore, Vetick’s study hall lined up with Timm’s lunch period, so he used that time to work on lab skills, bouncing ideas off of his teacher.

“He was willing and I appreciated that,” Vetick said. “I was able to explore and do some science. After that, Mr. Timm said ‘I’d really like you to take my research class next year’. So, as a junior, I did my first research project and really got into it.”

The scientific discoveries have been fascinating, but the bond formed will be cherished just as dearly as the ribbons and awards.

“If I had gotten a student like this just once in my career, I would have considered myself lucky,” Timm said. “You get those students where you can’t wait to see where they are at in five or 10 years, and Brock is one of those students.”

It’s likely Vetick will be using his gift to help others. He does so already. A school-wide effort to raise money for the construction of a veteran’s memorial in Lyons has far exceeded expectations. Vetick’s father’s construction/contracting company installed. Brock was there to help.

A coordinated effort between teachers and students has already raised about $13,500. Vetick addressed a group of veterans on Veteran’s Day, when the school presented a check of $5,000, the proceeds from a Walk-a-thon.

In Lyons and Decatur, school and community go hand in hand. It’s what makes the place special.

“When a person picks up a paper here, probably three of the 10 pages are nothing but school activities,” Vetick said. “School is so much a part of the community here. When I bump into someone at the gas pump or grocery story, they’re saying ‘Congrats on the Science Fair!’ or offering other encouragement.”

The community is supportive of the school, and vice versa. Recently, students spent a “Community Service” day in Decatur. Embracing technology, Timm said, has helped in developing strong community relations.

“There’s a school Facebook page and Twitter feed, and the individual organizations have their own too that are being updated constantly,” Timm said. “It’s a way for teachers to update parents daily. It used to be whatever came out in the paper is what you saw, unless you had kids in the school, but now our web page is feeding into those feeds, and people know what is going on in our classrooms, Sometimes even before I do.”

Next week, Timm and Vetick will board a plane and take off for the International Science and Engineering Fair in Los Angeles. The event, held was in Phoenix last year, will be their last together.

Timm is excited to watch Vetick’s future unfold. He chose to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to major in Plant Biology with a minor in Computational Biology, two fields that closely align with the research he’s currently doing. The school is just about the right distance from home said Viteck, who looked closely at Cornell, too, before deciding on the major research university in his own state.

“Without a doubt, if I would not have been involved in the agriculture education program, especially Mr. Timm’s research class, I wouldn’t be planning on that major,” Viteck said. “It has really helped me find that passion and a direction.”

Among the many lessons learned at Lyons-Decatur Northeast, the importance of balance, which Vetick talks about often with Timm, is the most important. Vetick understands the concept of being a part of something larger than himself, Timm said, a rare cognition for a high school senior.

“He has a passion that goes along with serving people that is connected to a life goal,” Timm said. “I’m not sure I had that when I was his age. It’s unique to the individual. He wants to help feed people, and examine how he can use what he’s excited about to do that.”

“I’ll never forget the opportunities that Lyons-Decatur has given me,” Vetick said. “I’ll remember this as the road that got me to where I’m headed.”

Wherever that may be, his favorite teacher will be following, just a phone call away.

“Sometimes students take off and you hear from them five years later and sometimes you hear from them a week later,” Timm said. “I can’t wait to see where Brock is at 10 years from now and what life has him doing.”