On Feb. 9, over 300 middle and high school students from across northern Indiana flocked to Goshen College for the regional Science Olympiad tournament. Throughout the day, the students tested their STEM skills in the first stage of the national science competition.
Ten middle school and 12 high school teams competed in events ranging from game design to protein modeling. The top four middle school teams and top three high school teams advanced to the state tournament in Bloomington.
Goshen College has hosted the northeast Indiana tournament for almost thirty years.
Decades ago, the Indiana Science Olympiad organization approached Stan Grove, a retired Goshen College biologist, and asked to bring the tournament to GC. Grove accepted and served as the tournament director until Jody Saylor, associate biology professor, and David Housman, professor of mathematics, took over the task almost ten years ago.
The events are designed to award teams who can creatively apply their scientific knowledge to hands-on problems.
One event, called ‘Mission Possible,’ required teams to design and build a Rube Goldberg machine (a machine that performs a simple task in a complex fashion) using as many mechanisms as possible from a given list. For example, the rule book stated that teams score points if their machine used “vinegar and baking soda to inflate a balloon so that an unguided balloon strikes an object at least 20 centimeters away.”
In an event called ‘The Physics of Sound,’ teams built musical instruments and scored points for intonation and volume. One participant warmed up with ‘twinkle, twinkle little star’ on his PVC pan flute before stepping up to be judged.
To help run the day long event, Saylor recruits supervisors and coordinates volunteers while Housman handles the details and administrative tasks.
“He takes care of the nuts and bolts. I’m the people person,” said Saylor. “We just work together perfect!”
Saylor recruited almost 100 volunteers to make the event happen, including around 60 science students from the college. Faculty and community volunteers supervised the events. Student volunteers prepared materials, wrote and scored tests and supported the supervisors.
The Science Olympiad tournament aims to bring young science students together to practice applied science in a fun, collaborative setting.
“None of [the events] are individual. There’s always teams of two or three students working together to solve a problem,” said Saylor.
Participants also get to visit Goshen College and interact with students. Saylor said she’s heard several students say that they came to GC because of the familiarity they gained from years of participating in Science Olympiad.
Additionally, high schoolers who participate in Science Olympiad at GC are eligible for a scholarship of $1000 per year if they come here, regardless of where they place in the tournament or their desired field of study.
For Saylor and Housman, hosting the tournament is more than an admissions project. “We do it because we see it as a service to these budding scientists,” said Housman.
Getting out of the classroom and into the realm of experiential learning is a refreshing alternative to lectures and textbooks.
“In high school, science can be boring,” said Luke Rush, a junior studying physics and math at Goshen College. Rush said that the events are “engaging and hands-on, which is more similar to what they’ll be faced with in real-world problem-solving.”
Additionally, the participants “are getting connected to broader public databases and institutions,” said Saylor. She said the experience urges them to ask, “What are the uses of science, and how can it benefit our community, our world?”
Jazmine Macias, a sophomore molecular biology major, volunteers because she likes interacting with the participants. “The kids are fun, they’re dynamic,” said Macias, “I was one of the first people to sign up.”
When asked what college students have to gain from the experience, Saylor said “I hope they’re realizing that somebody was there to encourage them along the way. Someone sparked their interest and helped them see themselves as future scientists. Now it’s their turn.”
The state Science Olympiad event will be held on Mar. 16, 2019.