Getting it Down to a Science: A Tribute to a Fantastic Science Olympiad Season

Another fantastic season of scientific achievement drew to a close on April 25th with the annual Science Olympiad State Competition at Juniata College. Our very own Garnet Valley competition team emerged triumphant, claiming top-five medals in four events and placing 13th out of the top 36 schools in the state of Pennsylvania in an unprecedented display of success.

The Science Olympiad program (lovingly dubbed “Sci Oly” by its members) works to foster interest in the STEM disciplines among middle and high school students by providing an environment in which aspiring scientists can explore their interests in these fields, forge friendships with like-minded students, and put their knowledge and projects to the test in interscholastic competitions. Garnet Valley’s team attended several invitationals this season, as well as the regional competition – where the team took 6th place overall, on top of medaling in six events – and the state championship.

Standout performances at States included those of freshmen Natalia Orlovsky and Lainie Beauchemin, sophomores Nimesha Megalla and Jae Kim, junior Bo Kim, and senior Amy Zhou. Natalia and Lainie snagged a second place medal through their design of a successful air trajectory cannon, hitting the provided targets with accuracy down to an inch, while Nimesha and Jae placed fifth in Mission Possible, an engineering event in which contestants are meant to construct intricate Rube Goldberg-like designs, utilizing concepts of physics and engineering to carry out multiple energy transfers and ultimately accomplish the final task in the least straightforward manner one could imagine. Sister duo Jae and Bo Kim demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of everything ecological in their fourth place win for Green Generation, while Amy and Natalia excelled on the microscopic scale as they aced the Cell Biology exam, winning fifth place. This enormous amount of success marks tremendous improvement for the high school Science Olympiad team, who, in the past, have never accumulated more than one state medal per year, and have never placed so well as a team.

While Garnet Valley succeeded in reaching new heights as a competition team, a number of individual Science Olympiad careers drew to a close. The journeys of senior members Nicholas Archer, Jonathan Bugg, Matt Bock, Ananya Chandra, Christine Huang, Dan Jaep, Jacob Pessin, and Amy Zhou reached their conclusions in this final competition. These exceptional scientific minds recounted their memories of the program fondly. “I first joined Science Olympiad in seventh grade, and from the get-go, I loved the competition,” recalled club treasurer Jacob Pessin. “[Throughout our high school careers], my friends and I were able to turn a mediocre team into one that not only medaled at Regionals, but at States as well. I am extremely proud of what we have accomplished and wish the best for our next generation of Olympians.”

Nicholas Archer shared a similar sentiment, saying that his experiences with Science Olympiad have influenced him tremendously, both as a student and as a person. “Not only does Sci Oly force you to think outside the box and allow you to study science in creative and detailed ways unlike anything you will ever encounter in school, but it also enhances your love for science,” said Nick, whose performances in the Protein Modeling, Scrambler, and Fossils events were among the best on the team. “It’s those amazing times where your hard work [pays off], and you come home wearing a medal around your neck, where you fully appreciate the opportunities Sci Oly has offered you.” He adds that the team is more than an educational opportunity for him. “Some of my best high school memories are from the crazy things that always seem to happen leading up to (and often during) the competitions. Without Sci Oly and all of the people I have come to know, love, and work with through it, I would not be the same person I am today.”

A large portion of the this team’s recent success must be accredited to its coach and mentor, Cecilia Tang. Ms. Tang has impacted a myriad of students through activities curricular and extracurricular alike during her years as a Garnet Valley educator, and her tenacious efforts were manifest in the team’s triumphs this season. Her instruction goes beyond purely scientific material; employing something of a “sink or swim” coaching philosophy, Ms. Tang notes that her goal is to teach life-long skills by granting the students independence and allowing them room to fail. “My perspective on Science Olympiad is that it is your club and so your responsibility,” she stated, referring in particular to the club’s officers and student leadership. “I try to facilitate opportunities for you to learn science things, but more so practical skills like organization, leadership, how to find price quotes on t-shirts, write grants, look like you know what you’re doing at board presentations, make deadlines, navigate ridiculous paper trails, and all the other skills you’ll need.”

According to Jacob Pessin, this approach has proved more than effective. “Being a Science Olympiad officer has taught me real independence,” he said of Ms. Tang’s coaching tactics. “We had to learn and make mistakes ourselves.” Club president and outgoing senior Christine Huang concurred, saying that she, too, acquired invaluable leadership and interpersonal skills from her experience. “In Science Olympiad, you learn when to fight your own battles and when to ask for help.”

In the end, while Science Olympiad is a fantastic opportunity for STEM-minded students to explore new fields of interest and to showcase their talents, the program transcends mere scientific achievement. It’s one of few team experiences available outside of athletics, it’s a great place to gain valuable life experience, and it provides members with an extraordinary social circle. When asked to describe the entire experience, Matt Bock offered a perfect summation of the role Science Olympiad plays in its members’ lives: “It’s more than a hobby, it’s a lifestyle.

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