By Cara L. Dempski
ELK MOUND — When most people think of science, their memories return to high school chemistry, physics or biology courses.
For many people, the memories are less than enjoyable.
When students at Elk Mound High School think of science, they see future careers, new things to learn, and the fun they can have — all thanks to the school’s Science Olympiad program.
Eric Young, the high school physics teacher who coaches the team, said the program is only in its fifth year of existence, but qualified a team for state this season. The full team is not able to attend the state meet, but a handful of students will still be going to UW-Milwaukee the weekend of April 8 to compete for individual medals.
There are 34 students participating on Elk Mound’s team, and they have 23 events from which to choose. Seniors Kami King, Maria Brownell and Matthew McLaughlin are three students headed to Milwaukee for state competition the second weekend in April.
The trio emphasized they love completing their projects and the offerings at each competition, but have just as much fun working together and meeting friends, new and old, at each meet. The Mounders traveled to the Boyceville High School Invitational held December 3, 2016, and went to UW-River Falls on January 21, 2017, before attending the March 4 Western Regional at Menomonie High School.
The team individuals headed to state will leave early the morning of April 8 in order to reach Milwaukee in time to register and then complete their individual events. There are 58 teams vying for awards at the state meet, and 11 teams that qualified as exhibition teams.
The Wisconsin Science Olympiad web page indicates the organization is a 501(c)3 non-profit with a mission of promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education in Wisconsin schools. Teams can compete in Division B as middle schoolers, and Division C as high school students.
The 23 competition events Elk Mound’s teams could participate in this season were based on the national Science Olympiad events. The events are chosen to reflect the national science standards, which makes participation in Olympiad an excellent way for school districts to meet science standards in a fun, engaging manner.
Mounder Science Olympiad participants this year could choose from a list that included: Anatomy and Physiology, Astronomy, Chemistry Lab, Code Busters, Disease Detectives, Dynamic Planet, Ecology, Electric Vehicle, Experimental Design, Food Science, Forensics, Game On, Helicopters, Hovercraft, Hydrogeology, Invasive Species, Optics, Material Science, Microbe Mission, Mystery Design, Remote Sensing, Renewable Energy, Rocks and Minerals, Tower Building, Wind Power, and Write It, Do It.
Competitors have only 50 minutes to complete their event tasks, whether it be a practical task or an exam, before moving on to their next scheduled events.
As with any other competition, some events are more popular than others. Code Breakers, a cryptography event, asks three-person teams to complete both a practical task and an exam. Another popular event, Tower Building, requires competitors to put together a structure to support an object.
Experimental Design, one of Brownell’s favorite events, requires students to build an experiment out of the resources provided, test a hypothesis, and then complete a lab report and questionnaire regarding their experiment and processes.
Young clarified, even though some of the events available are not topics covered by Elk Mound’s science department, the students still have time to study and prepare for events, and are able to take information into the competition sites to assist them on exams.
“You can bring in an endless amount of materials, but you need to know where to find the information quickly,” he reported.
The Elk Mound team
McLaughlin, King and Brownell have participated in Science Olympiad all four years of high school. Brownell has participated in Chemistry Lab, Disease Detectives, Experimental Design and Ecology, while King favored Anatomy and Physiology, Code Busters, Forensics, Chemistry Lab and Disease Detectives. McLaughlin has participated in Astronomy, Code Busters, Electronic Vehicle, Experimental Design, Game On, Mission Possible, Electric-launch Glider, Magnetic Levitation and Bridge Building.
The three seniors said events rotate into and out of the competition pool every three years, so they have experience in events that are not on this season’s list. The trio admitted their favorite event is Code Busters.
King and McLaughlin said they really love solving the codes and problems presented in the event.
Another event King loves is Anatomy and Physiology.
“I’m really interested in it, and just the body in general,” she stated. “I like knowing about the body and how it works.”
Not only is the event something King enjoys, but it is something that sparked her career interest. The senior will be attending UW-Eau Claire starting in September 2017, and pursuing a degree in Kinesiology with the goal of becoming a physical therapist.
“It really helps you figure out what you like, and what you’re good at,” King said.
She is not the only one to have discovered a career interest in a STEM field through Science Olympiad.
Brownell will be taking on a major in packaging at UW-Stout; the degree requires a solid education in mathematics and basic engineering principals. McLaughlin plans to attend NDSU for a degree in computer engineering.
He also noted many of the students participating in Science Olympiad choose to pursue degrees and careers in the fields they test on as part of competitions.
Young echoed the senior, stating this year’s freshmen team members had no idea what they wanted to try for events, but wound up truly enjoying the competition events they entered and are now seriously considering careers in the STEM fields.
Young acknowledged pride in the group of students he has coached in his first year teaching at Elk Mound.
“I rely on these guys more than anything because I am new to this,” the physics teacher said.
Elk Mound’s 2016-2017 Science Olympiad team consisted of:
Seniors – Chandler Schreiber, Kaitlyn Baier, Emily Ausman, Matthew McLaughlin, Elizabeth Fasbender, Maria Brownell, Kendra Potter and Kami King.
Juniors – Aric Jensen, Claudia Paul, Evan Brown and Mattea Linberg.
Sophomores – Josseyln Sorenson, Dillon McLaughlin, Sydney Simpson, Cameron Johnson, Hannah Caron, Audrey Westcott, Anna Schuch, Keaton Erickson, Victoria Fasbender, Paige Romanowski, Alexis Lee, DeAnna Leon, Sam Gerber, Hanna Hollister and Marquis Kasakaitas.
Freshmen – Seth Hazen, Reese Southworth, Nikki Munthe, Amanda Holzer, Lexi Nechanicky, Kayli Solberg and Lizzy Lindquist.