Science ‘rockstars’ compete in national tournament at UCF
Published: Sunday, May 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 21, 2012 10:05
The Science Olympiad National Tournament 2012 is no ordinary science fair. Picture a crossbreed between a national sports championship and extremely intellectually proficient individuals and you get the 28th annual science event, which was held at UCF this past weekend.
The tournament kicked off with an opening ceremony on Friday night, an event that the co-director for the 2012 national tournament and Florida state director, Mike McKee, was excited to see go smoothly. That excitement was an integral part of the entire weekend, infused seamlessly into seemingly everyone present.
The common thread? Science is fun.
Gerard Putz, who started the Olympiad and nurtured it since its infancy 30 years ago, wanted to create an environment for science lovers that rivaled their athletic counterparts.
“This is not about memorizing the art of philosophy in the back of a textbook,” Putz said.
And indeed, the sports-like, competitive nature of the tournament was idyllic for furthering an exciting atmosphere. One such event, titled Rocks and Minerals, consisted of 10 pairs. The event started with applause over the students’ successes before the event supervisor, Boyd Grayson, allotted instructions.
“All right, ladies and gentlemen,” Grayson said. “Good luck to all you budding geologists. You may begin.”
Chatter broke the otherwise silent room, as the students rapidly filled out questionnaires and flipped through binders or books at their stations. There were several stations set up in the room; sheets of paper were taped to the desks with arrows instructing participants what station to go to next. Students had four minutes at each station.
This group was a part of division B, one of two divisions at the tournament. Divisions B and C comprised middle- and high-school students, respectively.
Each division consists of various teams, each with 15 members participating in 23 events catered toward that division. However, no individual completes all 23 events.
“We call it an academic track meet because you have a team of 15 kids on your varsity squad that actually will pair up and do a variety of the 23 events that we have in each division,” said Jenny Kopach, vice president of marketing communications and national executive board member at the Science Olympiad.
Success in the tournament is measured by the lowest score, with oodles of prizes for those who do well. These rewards, which include scholarships to UCF for those high-school students who score gold, is just icing on the cake, Kopach said. Kopach was on a team in the early ’80s.
However, the benefit of becoming involved with the Science Olympiad is more far-reaching than the opportunity of a tangible reward.
“You win because you’ve gone through and you’ve made the commitment to education and the sacrifice to be here and do the best you can,” said David O’Shields, superintendant of his district in South Carolina and in charge of the Bell Street Middle School team at the tournament.
Of Bell Street Middle School’s 700 students, 100 students tried out and only 34 students made the cut. O’Shields stressed his school’s journey to the national tournament as one rich in community involvement.
“Our city, as small as it is, has along its light poles signs that recognize our accomplishments as state champions,” O’Shields said. “They have these banners that hang down, so it’s something that the community has taken great pride in.”
Two of his students, who had just taken part in the Awesome Aquifer event, said they really enjoyed the campus. One student emphasized how much fun she had meeting new people; the other spoke of learning and improving.
The UCF campus was full of like-minded individuals from all over the country Saturday morning at the Science Olympiad National Tournament 2012.
Perhaps Putz put it best when he said, “We call this the greatest gathering ever assembled of science rock stars.”