One of the best ways to learn a new skill is through hands-on, active participation. In a world where technology is constantly at our fingertips, the need for people with skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) continues to grow. Students from all over the Region are fostering their STEM skills through Science Olympiad, an academic competition with emphasis on teamwork, commitment, and fun. With the help of volunteers from ArcelorMittal, students from middle schools and high schools from all over the area competed on Saturday, February 9, in the Science Olympiad Regional Competition at Purdue University Northwest (PNW) in Hammond.
“Over half of our Honors College students are STEM majors, so they are eager to volunteer and engage with middle and high school students, expose them to the Purdue Northwest campus labs and facilities, and answer questions about STEM opportunities at the university level," said PNW Honors College Dean Karen Bishop-Morris. "It is inspiring to observe young people serious about making their mark in science just as serious about mentoring the next generation.”
Jerry Yothment, General Manager of Information Technology at ArcelorMittal, assisted with the Battery Buggy, an event where participating middle schoolers had to build a small vehicle. The battery-powered vehicles were designed to run a certain distance and to stop as close as possible to a target.
“It’s amazing what they are doing,” Yothment said. “These kids work so hard on these events, and they take it very, very seriously. These middle school children are capable, and you can see a lot of science in action on display here today.”
Students participating in Battery Buggy did not know what the desired distance will be before arriving at the event. When each team arrived for their time slot, they had only eight minutes to perform two rounds. Each team must set up their robot during these eight minutes in hopes of stopping precisely on the mark. Teams could also participate in an additional challenge for bonus points. In the bonus challenge, two cans were set up on the course, requiring the vehicles to move through them before heading toward the mark.
“It’s really a lot of pressure on these kids to be able to hit the mark, and they are remarkably close,” Yothment said. “It’s really amazing.”
Battery Buggy is just one event the students can participate in. Other scheduled events cover a myriad of STEM topics, including Thermodynamics, Mousetrap Vehicle, Sounds of Music, Potions & Poisons, Boomilever, Crime Busters, and many more.
“Science Olympiad inspires excitement, creativity and competition around science, technology, engineering and math that will serve students whether decide to pursue advanced study or careers in STEM, music or medicine,” Bishop-Morris said.
Kylie Currin, a sixth-grader from Westville Middle School, eagerly awaited her time to compete in Fossils, Road Scholar, and Elastic Launched Glider.
“I choose to be involved in Science Olympiad because it challenges me, and it makes me better in what I want to do and what I want to improve on,” Currin said. “I get to hang out with my friends and have a great time while we learn new skills.”
Kameron Baker, an Associate Engineer at ArcelorMittal, knows firsthand how being exposed to STEM at an early age can spark a lifelong interest. Baker completed projects in 4H and took a few engineering classes in high school. With the help of companies like ArcelorMittal, Baker found himself on a path to becoming an engineer. On Saturday, Baker gave back to the kids in his community by assisting in the Rollercoaster event.
“They just love to encourage young kids to get involved in STEM fields,” Baker said of ArcelorMittal. “We volunteer here not to help us, but to help the kids. It’s helping inspire these boys and girls to get involved with the STEM world.”
Tracy Brough, Division Manager of Shops at ArcelorMittal, helped students in the Boomilever event. Students brought with them structures created from lightweight wood that were designed to hold significant loads at their endpoint. Affixing the structures on one end, pounds and pounds of sand were loaded into a bucket on the cantilevered side. Weight was added until the structure failed.
Brough related the event to her first years of college when students were asked to construct bridges that held as much as weight as possible while weighing mere grams. Events like Boomilever offer high school students hands-on experience to the fundamentals of STEM fields while getting them involved in a fun competition.
“STEM is important. Kids are important. We want to be able to help them have a venue to compete,” Brough said.
Kyra Dabbert, a junior at Westville High School who competed in the Water Quality and Disease Detective event, has participated in Science Olympiad since she was in the eighth grade. She watched as teams performed in Mission Possible, an event that requires students to construct a Rube Goldberg device using simple machines to create a chain reaction.
“I like coming here with my friends, getting to explore, and watching the different events,” Dabbert said. “I really like science, and I really enjoy visiting the different college campuses.”
Schools that qualified to participate in Division B included Ben Franklin Middle School, Wheeler Middle School, Eggers Middle School, Gavit Middle School, Hebron Middle School, School City of Hammond, St. Mary Catholic Community School, St. Thomas More School, Westville Middle School, Whiting Middle School, and Wilbur Wright Middle School.
Schools that qualified to participate in Division C included Gavit High School, Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, Marian High School, Merrillville High School, Morton High School, Munster High School, Rensselaer Central High School, Westville High School, and Whiting High School.
The event would not be possible without the generous support of Purdue University Northwest and ArcelorMittal. To learn more about Purdue University Northwest, please visit https://www.pnw.edu/. To learn more about ArcelorMittal, please visit http://www.arcelormittal.com.