For CHS Freshman Jessie Lin, Science Olympiad serves as more than just an extracurricular. A competition event that her parents urged her to join, Lin never imagined that Science Olympiad would have such a large impact on her life as a learning experience. “It was fun, full of laughter, competitive, and we also got a lot of work done.”
Lin first joined Science Olympiad in her seventh grade year at Wydown, and like others involved in the team, she soon discovered that it was more than just a science competition. “I actually joined by force, but quickly came to find out that Science Olympiad is nothing of what I thought [it was]…Mrs. Sermos and Mr. Crook were always really generous and nice to me and they put a lot of hope in me.”
In her two years of competing in events Fast Facts, Dynamic Planet, and Roller Coaster, Lin has experienced her fair share of struggles and achievements, but hopes to continue improving her skills with the guidance of the high school team. “I have a lot of high hopes for the high school this year. Last year was their first year, and they got 5th at state. I have hope and confidence that we’ll make it to state this year.” The Science Olympiad team narrowly missed the cutoff for advancing to State their first year, but the team aspires to qualify this time with faster preparation and organization that was not previously possible.
Lin credits the balanced and comfortable atmosphere of Science Olympiad to helping her grow as a student and competitor. “I feel like having fun and being competitive are both important. If you’re only having fun, then you basically have no point in doing it. You’re just doing it for fun, therefore you won’t have a goal to go towards. But, if your team is too competitive, then the entire team would break apart from people blaming someone else for not doing as well.”
Lin, an avid competitor and member of Wydown’s highly competitive state team, wants others to know that Science Olympiad has helped her develop resilience. “Throughout my entire Science Olympiad experience, I have met many bumps in the road, but through perseverance and support from the entire team, I was able to overcome those bumps and come to love Science Olympiad. I’m currently a freshman in Clayton High School, and although I don’t know what my next four years will bring me, but I am certain that I will never give up Science Olympiad.”
I’m currently a freshman in Clayton High School, and although I don’t know what my next four years will bring me, but I am certain that I will never give up Science Olympiad.”
— Jessie Lin
The Science Olympiad members of 2017 assumed their journey had come to an end after Eighth Grade Promotion and the beginning of their tenure at Clayton High School. However, the team quickly came to the realization that they were not ready to leave Science Olympiad behind.
Motivated by the success the team achieved in their eighth grade year at Wydown, when they narrowly cinched a spot in Nationals against Pembroke Hills, they agreed to bring Science Olympiad to them. With a victorious middle school team in the district, not having a high school team to continue this triumph in seemed unfathomable, especially since numerous students wanted to stay involved.
Pablo Buitrago, Carol Zhang, Koray Akduman, and John Poor took initiative and constructed a plan, later discussing this with school officials to headstart the team. Kimberley Tran, a junior at the time, also found interest in the idea. “When I came to Clayton, there was Speech and Debate, but there was no Science Olympiad. So then, finally, the summer before Junior year, I thought that maybe it was time for me to make my own team myself.”
Tran later decided to reach out to the Science Olympiad administrators at Wydown for advice. “I contacted Mrs. Sermos over at Wydown to see how I should start a team at the high school, and she told me that the then-rising freshman were already meeting together to try to bring a team to Clayton, so then she gave me their contact information, and then I asked to meet up with them. And then we started to make plans.”
Together, the group sought out teacher sponsor Mr. Adam Bergeron, a CHS Biology teacher, and began the team with his support. Bergeron had past experience with Science Olympiad at the previous school he taught at and realized that another obstacle the team had to overcome was the adjustment into a more high school based Science Olympiad. “I think that was a very different experience for last year’s ninth graders, because they were accustomed to teachers having a much more hands-on approach with group. So I hope that, now that I know that, to bridge the gap…I believe that you can do it on your own, albeit with some support.”
The adjustment was yet another struggle the team had to overcome during its first year. Buitrago explains, “At the high school, we didn’t have Mrs. Sermos. We didn’t have WashU coaches or anything.” Yet, although the group faced many downfalls and disappointments shortly after the creation of the team, they were still able to recuperate for State finals.
During the Year:
The heavy student management in Wydown made the transition between middle and high school Science Olympiad immensely difficult. The entire process of signing up, creating the team, and finding teachers to fill out forms had to be coordinated by themselves, without any direction. “We didn’t have our first team meeting until January at the Starbucks,” Buitrago says, “It was rough, but we got there.” According to him, the team didn’t perform very well last year, but that wasn’t the original goal anyway. They wanted to get the team off the ground, and succeeded at that.
The team was mainly advertised through word-of-mouth. Friends convinced other friends to join, and the team grew from there, along with a few daily announcements.
Science Olympiad is primarily student-run, and a few students have taken leadership in planning every aspect of the team. “We have a group chat with three people [who are] the most interested, or most dedicated, or least busy,” Buitrago notes. They collaboratively made a giant spreadsheet that is responsible for every element of the upcoming season – including the roster, rankings, budget, and invitational schedules. They hope that this will prevent any confusion in the future, and the team will run more smoothly. “Once the rules come out, which is next week, we can hit the ground running, since we have all the information there.”
Self-study is a huge part of Science Olympiad. Now that coaches and mentors are scarce, the team relies on each student learning the material on their own. Buitrago explains, “It was [the student’s] responsibility to get their work done, and luckily most of them followed through.” At Wydown, having a mentor gave a team a special edge, and they were expected to perform better at competitions. At the high school, the best teams don’t have coaches!
The Clayton Science Olympiad team poses for a photo at a local competition. In recent years, this team has experienced significant growth.
As for plans, the team’s new approach is to attend as many invitationals as possible. Practice makes perfect – the more experience the team has in competing, the more prepared they’ll be at the competition. “If you look at the team that won nationals last year, they went to ten invitationals.” At Wydown, there were about three invitationals that the team went to, and most members didn’t go to all of them. Contrarily, the national winning team attended thirteen competitions in total – ten invitationals, regionals, state, and nationals. This new approach will hopefully bring the team to higher rankings, and give each member more competition experience.
For his main goal this year, Bergeron wishes to incorporate work with fun in Science Olympiad. “I hope that it’s fun. You guys work so hard every day while you’re at school, and so hard when you go home at night, and sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. You deserve to see that science isn’t just work; that it can be fun…We are doing this to hopefully learn through mistakes, grow as a team, and hopefully foster some sort of team spirit.”