On the heels of capturing first place at the state championships on April 29, the New Trier Science Olympiad team is turning its focus to the next challenge on its horizon: winning first place at the national competition on May 20.
The team will continue to rely on its greatest strengths as it prepares for the national competition, held at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio — teamwork and camaraderie.
“There is very much a focus on teamwork and camaraderie. I think that is what made our team so successful this year,” Jason Lee, a senior at New Trier High School and varsity member of the Science Olympiad team, told DailyNorthShore.
Lee compared a Science Olympiad competition to a track meet. There are 23 events for the varsity, and five trial events for the junior varsity. While everyone competes individually in the events, or in groups of two or three people, it is teamwork that sets the New Trier team apart. “It is ultimately a team sport and you want everyone to perform well,” Lee said.
The competitions are broken into two types of events: study events that cover various science-related topics and building events that are engineering oriented.
In preparation, the team spends its time studying the various topics that will be covered at the competition, such as physiology, astronomy, astrophysics and lab chemistry. Essentially, all of the branches of science are covered. But Lee said while New Trier covers these topics in class, the Science Olympiad team has to take it to the next level to win at competitions. At the competition, students either sit down and take a traditional timed test with questions, or answer questions at a station within a certain time period, and then move on to the next station.
“If you want to perform well you have to go beyond what you would find in the high school classroom,” Lee said. Indeed, team members frequently study college material to learn more about the various topics.
The building events require students to work together to design models to perform specific tasks. For example, the competition may require students to build a car that runs on batteries at a certain speed, for a certain length of time. Another model could be a helicopter made from balsa wood that runs on a rubber motor. The students build the models before the competition, when they must test the machines to show how they work.
In order to win at competition, the Science Olympiad team must do well in both the study and building events. Lee said that New Trier traditionally does well in the study events, but this year the team is strong in building as well. “This year is just an amazing group of individuals,” he said.
The team meets once a week at school, which is overseen by head coach Alex Howe and five other coaches. Most of the work is put in after school, when the students study and refine their building projects. “There is nothing that can beat raw determination and the willingness to put effort into it,” Lee said.
According to Lee, all of the hard work is worth the effort, because Science Olympiad is such a positive team experience. He thinks the most important characteristics of the team is its strong sense of community — the students are like a family and share a common vision — its camaraderie and the unique opportunities the team offers to students interested in STEM.
New Trier’s Science Olympiad team has always done well compared to other schools in Illinois and across the nation. The school’s best-ever result at nationals is 5th place, which Lee said the team hopes to beat this year. “Everyone really wants to succeed at nationals this year,” Lee said.
In fact, the team aims to go all the way. “Our goal is to get first place. We have such an amazing group this year. We just want to aim as high as possible and we think it is achievable this year,” Lee said.