Over 300 students from middle and high schools in northern Indiana participated Saturday in the annual Indiana Science Olympiad regional tournament hosted by Goshen College.
Teams of 15 students competed in 23 events that tested their skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The challenges inspired feats of creativity to break codes using matrices, model 3D protein structures with pipe cleaners, design musical instruments and more.
In the Recreation-Fitness Center, students tested gravity-propelled vehicles designed to speed across the gym floor and stop dead on a blue masking tape target, pressured-air bottle rockets that release parachute-held ping-pong balls and balsa wood gliders that trace wide circles, propelled by the tension in a rubber band.
Of the nine middle schools, five will advance to the state competition to be held at Purdue University in late March, according to the Indiana Science Olympiad website. Of the 12 high schools four, will advance.
Jody Saylor, associate professor of biology, and David Housman, professor of mathematics, both department chairs, co-organize the day’s events each February. Housman handles the scoring and logistics, while Saylor coordinates the 75-100 volunteers, she said.
On Saturday, Saylor bounced from building to building, managing student volunteers in purple T-shirts and ensuring each event supervisor was present and prepared, she said. She also set up and emceed the awards ceremony, which was held in the sanctuary of College Mennonite Church.
Overall, Saylor believed the event to be a stand-out Science Olympiad tournament. At the end of the day, when coaches meet to offer advice on things that could improve, “they didn’t have one suggestion,” she said. “That’s never happened.”
Saylor said her favorite part of the competition is the camaraderie she sees between participants, regardless of which school they’re from. When the winning schools were announced during the awards ceremony, the whole room rose for a standing ovation.
“When else are you in the Church-Chapel and people are screaming like it’s the Super Bowl?” she said. “It warms my heart every time.”
The tournament also exposes middle and high school students to a college campus and put Goshen College on the radar, Saylor said. Regardless of tournament performance, each participant receives a goody bag with GC pens and stickers and is eligible for a $1000 scholarship if they enroll at GC.
Katie Baer, a math major, spent six hours proctoring two different events throughout the day and was impressed by the organization required to host such a big event. “It’s a lot of work,” she said.
Luke Rush, a physics major, who also worked the event, said the tournament’s strength is bringing young students out of the classroom to experience the practical applications of what they learn in the classroom.
“Science Olympiad is a fun way to see some of the science things come to life,” he said.
Paul Meyer Reimer, professor of physics, agreed. He said events that require students to build bridges, levers, airplanes and vehicles “provide the kind of physical experience that teachers can later refer to when bringing up those otherwise arcane-seeming general concepts like ‘force’ or ‘torque.’”