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U.S. Silica, IMSA® Partner to Bring Hands-On Learning to Local Classrooms

March 28, 2012

March 28, 2012

(OTTAWA) – About 150 students from area LaSalle County schools will visit the U.S. Silica facility in Ottawa on Thursday, March 29 to get an up-close look at their latest research assignment – identifying solutions that expand the sand-mining company’s sustainable operations. Students will tour the plant starting at 10 a.m.

The visit is part of a new Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy® (IMSA) program that partnered with U.S. Silica and challenged students in grades 4th-8th to solve real-life business problems. Beginning last year, participating teachers used U.S. Silica’s sustainability initiative to develop a curriculum where students designed unique approaches for the company to consider as it looks to ensure sustainable practices at its Ottawa facility. 

Northlawn Junior High seventh grade science teacher Missy Brown said her students are researching creative solutions like wind turbines, recycling and water conservation and also developing the strategies needed to implement them. Other classrooms might use math, logic and language skills to research their strategy.

“The partnership with IMSA is a perfect opportunity to engage area students with the work we do each and every day, while also getting their fresh perspective and new ideas,” said U.S. Silica Ottawa Plant Manager, Jon Sheridan. “This project is a great match with the science and engineering work of our employees and together with IMSA we can really engage in innovative ideas to ensure a sustainable operation.”

In total, IMSA has trained 18 teachers from seven schools throughout LaSalle County who will work with students on how U.S. Silica can ensure a sustainable operation. In addition to Northlawn Junior High, participating schools include Marseilles Elementary School, Holy Family School in Oglesby, Dimmick School in LaSalle, John F. Kennedy School in Spring Valley and Waltham Elementary in Utica.

“It is interesting because I am learning right along with the students,” Brown said. “This is a great way for them to use the skills they learn in the classroom and develop solutions that benefit their own community.”

Looking for local business partners, IMSA connected with U.S. Silica through the LaSalle County Department of Education based on the company’s ties to science curriculum. Together the partners collaborated to determine a project topic that would allow real-life application of problem-solving skills for kids.  The goal is to identify a business challenge faced by U.S. Silica and to allow students to work through strategy and plans for addressing the challenge. 

The topic ties in well with U.S. Silica’s recently unveiled Sustainability Initiative, which outlines goals to ensure a stable business model, invest in local communities and maintain environmental stewardship throughout the company’s 13 facilities around the country. Among the goals are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving employee safety and building environmental best practices.  U.S. Silica is one of the only in its industry to have a dedicated sustainability program.

“We are delighted to partner with U.S. Silica and the LaSalle County Regional Office of Education to provide authentic learning experiences for students throughout LaSalle County,” said IMSA’s Program Director for PBL Deb Gerdes.  “The LaSalle County teachers are collaborating within and across schools to enrich their students’ learning through interactions with a local industry and resource.

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) provides a framework for students to engage in critical thinking, problem solving and collaborative skills in addition to gaining content knowledge as they engage in exploring carefully crafted situations adapted from real-world issues. PBL is a central thrust of IMSA’s sharing of effective teaching and learning practices.  IMSA's unique niche in extended professional development in a deeply-grounded research-based PBL model is internationally recognized.  Institutes provide a framework for teachers to implement theoretical beliefs.


U.S. Silica Holdings, Inc., a Delaware corporation, is the second largest domestic producer of commercial silica, a specialized mineral that is a critical input into the oil and gas proppants end market and a variety of attractive industrial and specialty products end markets. During its 111-year history, U.S. Silica Holdings, Inc. has developed core competencies in mining, processing, logistics and materials science that enable it to produce and cost-effectively deliver over 200 products to customers across these end markets. U.S. Silica Holdings, Inc. is headquartered in Frederick, Maryland.


The internationally recognized Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy® (IMSA) develops creative, ethical leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  As a teaching and learning laboratory created by the State of Illinois, IMSA enrolls academically talented Illinois students (grades 10-12) in its advanced, residential college preparatory program, and it serves thousands of educators and students in Illinois and beyond through innovative instructional programs that foster imagination and inquiry. IMSA also advances education through research, ground-breaking ventures and strategic partnerships. (



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