Ohio Science Olympiad Prepares Students for Life In and Outside the Classroom

Each year, more than 4,500 middle and high school students from the state use their free time to tinker, build, explore, research, learn, observe and collaborate.

Why? In preparation for Ohio Science Olympiad, the state’s premier competition for students to demonstrate their skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). For these students, as well as coaches, teachers, parents and volunteers, participating in this program is a passion project.

Kirsten Jaster has been a Science Olympiad coach for the New Albany-Plain Local middle and high school teams for 22 years. She was struck with the “bug” as a student at The Ohio State University when she volunteered at the state tournament as a requirement for her teaching program.

“From my graduating cohort, six of us started Science Olympiad programs at our schools and I believe a couple of them are still running,” Jaster recalls. “This program allows students to explore all the sciences in a fun, competitive way. It’s more than just a science fair; it’s for kids who want to push beyond their comfort level. It’s an amazing opportunity!”

Participating in Ohio Science Olympiad is a family affair for Alan Chalker, director of strategic programs at the Ohio Supercomputer Center. He began competing as a high school freshman, which led to his parents volunteering with the program and his siblings also participating. He even met his high school sweetheart, and now wife, through Ohio Science Olympiad. Chalker remains heavily involved with Ohio Science Olympiad, and also serves at the national level as the rules committee chair for physical science.

“I stay involved with the program for many reasons and they tie back to the overall mission of the program: creating a passion for learning science, improving the quality of science education, and celebrating the achievements of these exceptional students.”

Ohio Science Olympiad tournaments are set up like track-and-field meets. Teams compete in a series of 23 STEM-related events that add up to an overall score. This year, the Ohio Science Olympiad state tournament will be hosted at Ohio State on Saturday, April 1. A record-high 320 teams registered to compete at the eight regional tournaments throughout February and March, in hopes of being one of the 80 teams to advance to the state tournament.

In addition to learning about and developing a passion for STEM fields, students are also enhancing their skills that will help them at the next level. Caitlyn Horn and Kevin Payravi are current Ohio State students and Science Olympiad alum. They both note that the skills they learned through Science Olympiad helps them in the classroom and in their roles as HackOHI/O planning committee members.

“I was able to explore many different aspects of science and technology before landing on computer science, and I think this opportunity to explore my interests outside of the traditional classroom was invaluable,” Horn said. “Science Olympiad helped me learn that it is better to work collaboratively with others than to try to go it alone.”

Payravi echoes that sentiment, adding: “Not only does Science Olympiad allow students to learn about topic areas that aren't covered in school, but it is a fun, competitive environment that students self-select for—which keeps them motivated and excited to learn. This appreciation has led me to get involved with organizing and volunteering for informal learning events in college, such as organizing for Ohio State's HackOHI/O program and hosting Wikipedia edit-a-thons through Wikipedia Connection.”

To build, explore, research, learn, observe and collaborate are all opportunities that need to be sought. Learning those skills at an early age through programs like Ohio Science Olympiad sets students up to be life-long learners at the ready to improve the world.

Witness the next generation of STEM professionals in action on Saturday, April 1 at the Ohio Science Olympiad state tournament, hosted by Ohio State. Select events of the tournament are open to the public; details can be found online at ohso.osu.edu.

You can also follow the action online on Twitter by following @OHSciOly or the event’s hashtag, #OhioSO.