Science Olympiad teams to head to state tournament


Alissa Pietila/Daily Globe

SEVENTH-GRADERS Eliza Stone, left, and Mason Pionk show how their Air Trajectory model works recently at the A.D. Johnston school in Bessemer. The pair took first place for their model in the Science Olympiad regional competition.

BESSEMER - This year, Bessemer's high school Science Olympiad team, with 36 total players including alternates, won first place in the Upper Peninsula regional competition at Northern Michigan University in Marquette in February.

The junior high team took second place. Both are moving on to the 2015 State Tournament on May 2 at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Teachers Dave and Tracy Rowe, along with parents and other teachers, have been practicing with the students for a long time.

"It takes a village," Dave said. "... (Winning the regional) is something we can all feel good about."

Dave said they add new material and questions to the competitions all the time, covering a wide range of Science, Technology Engineering and Math topics.

"We have to ramp it up to the next level," he said of the state competition. Dave said the state tournament features many teams from much larger schools downstate, who have companies that mentor and support them.

"We're competing against large schools with unlimited budgets," Tracy said.

"We're hoping we can medal again, but ... it's the experience we're hoping for," Dave said. "It wouldn't be a downer if we didn't medal."

Competition categories

Though the categories are focused in STEM fields, there are a wide variety of topics to choose from.

"Different kids have different strengths," Tracy said, and you can use those strengths strategically in competition.

"There's something for everybody," Dave added.

Tracy said a category called "Picture This" is sort of like science Pictionary, was new this year.

In the "Experimental Design" category, students are asked to write out a full experiment using what is in a box, both teachers explained. Dave said it is more about knowing how an experiment should look and read, instead of what the actual experiment is.

Senior Valerie Rowe wrote the experiment in the high school competition and said it was about five pages, front and back, of writing once completed.

The competitions also involve a lot of pre-planning and construction.

"Most of the stuff (used in competition) is pre-built," Tracy said. "90 percent of the building is done beforehand."

Mentoring minds

Dave said one important aspect of having a both teams is the older students can mentor the younger ones, making it more likely the students will medal.

Valerie said she really enjoys mentoring. "I love helping," she said. "I've always worked with the younger kids on it, and I love helping them, so much."

"Seeing them place at regionals and watching them along the whole process, and you help them along, is really fun," Valerie said. "Because you know that you somehow impacted how they did at the competition. You know that they are appreciative of your help."

"It is really nice," said senior Molly Wieringa. "Even on competition day, you get there and you're helping the seventh- and eighth-graders find their way around the building and make sure they get to their problems."

"It's a team effort, but it's also kind of valuable as a leadership experience," she said.

Younger minds

On the junior high team, many said they have had a lot of fun participating in SO.

Seventh-grader Adam Mazurek said he enjoys being able to see the judges look at the projects and determine what's good and bad about it. He said the skills learned can also be helpful in a future career.

"Like if you want to be an engineer or (work in) a laboratory or something, you know some of the stuff and you have a basic idea of what's good for something or what's bad for it," he said.

Eighth-grader Abbey Johnson said, "I like (SO) because you have to use your own mind, instead of a teacher always telling you what to do."

"Something really nice about (SO) is you can decide if you're going to do good," said seventh-grader Tad Rowe. "You have to work for it and when you get it, you feel really good about it."

Eighth-grader Uriah Aili has worked on an airplane glider for the competitions. "It's really hard because you have to know all the angles," he said. If one part is incorrect, it can affect the entire plane, Mazurek said.

Hannah Janczak, a seventh-grader who said she enjoyed the wheeled vehicle competition, said she enjoys SO, "because it challenges you, and it pushes you to see how much, or how good you can do."

Janczak and her brother took first place in the wheeled vehicle problem.

Seventh-grader Eliza Stone said she also likes the challenge. "You have to use your mind and then with the air trajectory (building project) you have to calibrate to the measurement that's given to you," she said.

Stone and fellow seventh-grader, Mason Pionk, built the air trajectory model together and won first place at the regional.

Career contemplations

Senior Daniel Trekas said his favorite problem is Dynamic Planet, which involves geology and earth science. "I did that (problem) all seven years," he said, medaling each year. Trekas plans to study geology and earth science in college.

James Jendrusina, who recently placed first in the regional bridge building competition with Nick Matonich, both seniors, said he has competed in the same build or similar builds, placing each year.

"It didn't really influence my career, because I kind of did my own passions, but I definitely love this kind of stuff," Jendrusina said. "I pay attention to bridges in the news and other (places)."

He plans to study Naturopathy, which takes a holistic approach to medicine.

Matonich said he's liked most of the problems he's competed in and has enjoyed SO.

"It's a great extracurricular activity," he said. "Because we're a small school and we don't have a lot of other things, other than sports. It's nice to have it."

Wieringa said she liked getting challenging problems this year, and being able to work with her sister. They got the chance to work on a cell biology problem together this year, as Lily was finally on the high school team.

"We just got to go home and work together and figure it out," Molly said. "And when we went into competition, it was like we know each other really well, so you laugh and you're whispering and giggling at the same time you're going through the whole test."

Molly has competed in problems in forestry, cell biology and designer genes, but said the forestry problem was probably her favorite, as her mom is a forester.

Alex Hooyman, also a senior, is an alternate this year.

"Alex has opted to be an alternate this year, even though he has been phenomenal," Tracy said.

Hooyman said his two favorite problems over the years have been in Awesome Aquifers and Rocks & Minerals. Though he has enjoyed SO, he has different career plans.

"It's architecture all the way for me," Hooyman said.

"You've always been into that," Dave said. "So that's a good option."

Recognition, accomplishment

Most of the seniors interviewed said being in SO was a great achievement for them.

"I put it as my greatest accomplishment," Valerie said on her scholarship and college applications.

"We're six for six (among seniors interviewed) that this was one of the most influential things they did," Dave said. "It pushed every one of them. ... We've got 37 years of experience as competitors."

"It's nice that this gets almost as much recognition, as sports do, when we do well," Molly said. "It makes you feel good."

Funding for SO is not part of the school's budget, Dave said.

"We're looking for help to get these students down to Lansing," he said. "Opportunities don't happen like this all time. It's special to think we actually won (the U.P. regional). It's an opportunity that is important, it's cherished."

Donations by check, payable to Bessemer Science Olympiad, can be dropped off a the school or mailed to Bessemer Science Olympiad, A.D. Johnston High School, 100 W. Lead St., Bessemer, Mich., 59911.

For more information or questions, contact Dave Rowe at [email protected]. More information about the statewide Science Olympiad can be found at


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