Photo of Dr. Adam Tournier

SHARING OUR STORY: Dr. Adam Tournier

does chaos better than Dr. Adam Tournier, assistant professor of physics. Chaos theory of mathematics? Piece of cake. Chaotic schedule that he makes look easy? Slice of pi. Pun intended.

On one brisk afternoon, his office was abuzz with animated chatter as various students popped in for advice. There was the young woman who needed help rescheduling her physics class. An athlete who injured his ankle. Another student wanted to interview Adam for a class project.

All this in the course of an hour. For Adam, it was a typical day.

“If you think this is busy, you should have been here for our second annual FIRST® (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge robotics competition,” he said, matter-of-factly. “We had elementary, middle school and high school students come from all over to compete.”

Organized by Adam and Dr. Jim Feher, professor of computer science, the popular event was inspired by President Obama’s belief that all students should have the opportunity to excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

“Our mission is to bring hands-on, engaging, interactive activities to students throughout the region in grades K through 12,” he explained. “We emphasize teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking.”

To acquire funding for the event, Adam and Jim secured sponsorships for STEM-related activities through grant writing and partnerships with the local military community and Scott Air Force Base, as well as various engineering companies in southern Illinois.

“A number of officers from Scott Air Force Base spoke at the robotics event. They talked about the importance of STEM education for the future of our nation - the importance of the United States to be the innovators in math and science.”

As part of McKendree’s STEM initiative, Adam helped establish a children’s LEGO League summer camp on campus. The summer camp complements the University’s FIRST LEGO League (FLL) regional qualifier for grades four through eight, which was held on campus the same weekend as the robotics tournament.

“The FLL tournament uses a specific LEGO kit,” he explained. “All of the students get the same kit, and they create teams and work on their projects. Both public and private schools are involved.

“Events like the robotics competition and the LEGO qualifier (for the state competition) plant the seeds for the love of science and technology when young people are just learning for the first time. We want to stimulate their interest so they will ultimately go into these fields.”

McKendree is creating new STEM-based programs, raising the bar that was already set very high in its math and science departments. To this end, Adam recently assisted Jim in developing the University’s new 3+2 engineering program, which allows students to complete their first three years of studies at McKendree before transferring to the Missouri University of Science and Technology for their final two years.

“We are a small university,” he said, “and because of that, we are able to be hands-on in every way. We are here to help our students succeed. And I, and the other instructors here, will do whatever it takes to make that happen."