by Ariana Habibi

After months of preparing for their events, the Stuart Science Olympiad team competed in their Regionals event on March 12. With the largest team in the school’s recent history, the students placed 11th overall, qualifying for States

Though there are many returning members, the team is much larger than it has been in previous years. It is double the size it was two years ago and nearly quadruple what it was just last year. Much of this growth has occurred due to the actions taken by the current co-captains, senior Rachel Mangum and junior Marianna Karagiannis.

“[W]e did our best to recruit a good amount of freshmen by going to Glasgow and talking to the middle schoolers in SciOly, as well as recruiting students from other grade by making tons of announcements and flyers for the club,” said Mangum. “This year I felt that we’ve worked a lot harder than we have the past two years and I’m glad that our hard work helped us obtain and create dedicated people.”

In a competition like Science Olympiad, this dedication must go a long way. At Stuart, students are required to either study or build their events in their personal time, causing them to spend less time on regular schoolwork.

“It can be very difficult to balance it,” Karagiannis said. “Some of the events are related to science classes, so we can pay attention to specific things we need to know for Science Olympiad while we are in class. Like any other club or sport, it helps to schedule out specific time for just this. In order to be successful, it can’t just be all done the week before the competition; it needs to be spread out.”

As Regionals neared, the team met more often to ensure they were prepared for the competition.

“We had club meetings once a week on either Wednesday or Thursday but towards the competition date I stayed pretty much everyday,” said freshman Anna Tan. “I did a little bit at a time and crammed what I needed the day before.”

Members enrolled in the IB program or taking IB classes had to make further sacrifices.

“For me personally as an IB student, I just have to make it work, even if I have to sacrifice a percentage of my grade for choosing to work on my events instead of my homework,” Mangum said. “I have to admit, I’m even guilty of doing SciOly work during school when I was supposed to be paying attention in class. Recently I’ve been taking any opportunity I can to read about one of my events or take just a couple lines of notes.”

While everyone worked hard to prepare for their events, this dedication of the captains greatly influenced the more novice members.

“They were the first people I met and spoke to,” said Tan, referring to the captains. “They pretty much carried the team.”

However, there are conflicting views on who exactly were the star players of the team.

“This year’s MVPs I would have to say are all of the freshmen,” said Mangum. “In SciOly on the high school level, we have to ask a lot of our team members to fundraise enough money, study harder events than they’re used to in middle school level, and coming to meetings once a week if not more. I’m really proud of the freshmen who continue to hang in there and keep my co-captain and I updated on how they’re doing with their workload.”

With this hard work and dedication, Stuart medaled in the “fossils” event, with Karagiannis and Mangum competing. Usually, the team averages about three medals per competition.

“[W]e came very close to getting medals in a lot of events, so with more hard work in the next month, we have a good shot at getting a lot more medals at the state competition,” Mangum said.

Science Olympiad (C)
The team cheers for Mangum and Karaginnis’ win. Photo by Ariana Habibi.

Stuart placed in the top-ten in five other events, and medals are given to the top six in each.

“The invasive species event, the one we were stressing about most, actually went really well,” said Tan, who placed eighth in the event with teammate Mindy Truong. “Some of the questions on the test were exactly on our notes. Some of the pictures that they used were the same ones we had found and studied.”

Despite their efforts, the team did not perform exceptionally well in the competition.

“Our under-performance in competitions compared to other schools in our division is due to our lack of affluence and resources available to the club,” said Mangum. “Many other schools are able to purchase textbooks or work books about subjects specific to their events, models and materials for their building events, test kits and sets with everything they need to win.”

Other schools also have high-end research equipment available on campus. Thomas Jefferson HS, for example, has laboratories and a planetarium available to the students. The school also won the high school division at Regionals.

Still, economic disadvantages are not the only reason to blame.

“Part of it might be because we don’t have the same support or recognition as teams at other schools, but I think a lot of it is that people have other priorities,” Karagiannis said. “We might start out the year not expecting to do very well, so people will prioritize other clubs or sports, and won’t be able to get passed low expectations.”

As phrased by Truong, “We are seen as the underdogs, and are not held up to as high of expectations as TJ.”

However, the quality of a team should not be determined by the number of medals they win or how great of a reputation they have. As exemplified by Stuart’s Science Olympiad, “winning” can be defined in many ways.

“A winning team is made when people will work hard, and work together,” said Karagiannis. Everyone needs to know what they need to do, and be enthusiastic about being there. It helps to have money, supplies, and additional help from sponsors or other teachers, but it really comes down to the hours people work.”

“Even if everyone studies and works as hard as they can, sometimes people’s best just isn’t enough, but that’s okay,” said Mangum. “The only way we can really lose is if no one tries their best, but that isn’t the case for Stuart.”