By John F. Loehr and Jenny Kopach
In May 2024, Science Olympiad—the largest K–12 team Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) competitions in the United States—will celebrate the 40th Annual Science Olympiad National Tournament at Michigan State University, a goal that its founders, Dr. Gerard Putz, Sharon Putz, and Jack Cairns could never have imagined when they started the national program out of a basement office in Rochester, Michigan. From its humble beginnings, Science Olympiad grew to a community that now encompasses chapters in every state, more than 400 tournaments a year, 53 college alumni chapters, and a program that serves upwards of a million or more K–12 students annually.
For a view inside how Science Olympiad works, schools form teams of up to 15 students to compete against each other in a series of developmentally appropriate and standards-aligned events. Within each middle school or high school team, students work in pairs to help their team compete in as many of the 23 events and covering a broad range of content. The top teams from each state can earn their way to the annual National Tournament. For elementary student teams, 16 events address four topic areas in a way that meets the wide developmental ranges of this age group. Specific details about the program, the activities, or how to participate can be found at soinc.org.
Science Olympiad’s upcoming 40th anniversary provides motivation to reflect on why its “academic track meet” of classroom activities, hands-on challenges, and advanced topics has been successful. We hope that this reflection reveals a few factors (listed below) that can be applied to any informal program.
Reflecting on the factors responsible for Science Olympiad’s lasting legacy in the STEM informal education space—recognition, personal choice, peer and professional networks, responsiveness—it is not surprising that we are embarking on its 40th anniversary. Lastly, it is important to note that nothing would have been possible without the national network of people who love Science Olympiad and have dedicated their time—and in some cases their entire careers—to giving students the opportunity to engage in and explore STEM. Let’s also take a moment to appreciate the foundation that was created by these dedicated individuals.
John F. Loehr, PhD, is Vice President of STEM Education, Science Olympiad, in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois; firstname.lastname@example.org. Jenny Kopach, is Chief Executive Officer and Senior Vice President of Marketing Communications, Science Olympiad, in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois email@example.com.
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