Contingent of Eagle County students prepare to compete in Colorado Science Olympiad
Students will apply their STEM skills to various challenges, aiming for a place in the National competition
This year, 34 students from the Eagle County School District qualified to compete in the state Science Olympiad competition. And on Saturday, April 1, 27 of these students from Berry Creek Middle, Eagle Valley Middle and Battle Mountain High School decided to make the trek to the University of Colorado Colorado Springs campus to compete.
“Basically Science Olympiad is a national level track and field competition of science,” said Marjorie Oyler, a secondary education gifted and talented specialist for the school district.
Applying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills, each student participates in three to four events with a partner. These events fall within several categories from building and testing things like bridges and devices that can launch items to those that test students’ knowledge of various sciences.
It’s an academic competition that builds “skills of collaboration, independence, studying, communication, time management, organization, fundraising, design process, engineering, laboratory and application,” Oyler said.
While Science Olympiad is just one academic competition students from several Eagle County schools can participate in either through exploratory classes or after-school programs, it’s one that’s seen a lot of growth since COVID-19. This year is the first time in five years the district has a high school team, Oyler added, giving credit to Valeria Roberts, a science teacher at Battle Mountain.
Support Local Journalism
“At first students find the rules of each event a little overwhelming, but as they prepare for the state competition, the coaches have all observed how independent they have become in their time-management and study skills,” Oyler said. “I have seen them grow in their communication, application and designing skills, which is an amazing thing to watch. These students are learning the skills now to become our future leaders in STEM careers.”
The state regional qualifier occurred earlier this year at the Colorado State University Pueblo campus, where 20 middle schools and 20 high schools from across the state competed to qualify for state. Teams that placed in the top 14 of all teams in the regional competition moved on to state.
This year, Berry Creek placed 10th (with 10 top-10 placements from students), Battle Mountain ninth (with 13 top-10 placements) and Eagle Valley Middle placed 13th at the regional competition (with four top-10 placements).
For the love of science
For many of the students that chose to participate in the Science Olympiad, it comes from a love of STEM (and sometimes some peer convincing).
“I joined Science Olympiad because I love Science and everything about it. I also joined because my sister did it in sixth grade and it seemed like fun,” said Ava Mulholland-Brueck, a seventh grader at Eagle Valley Middle School.
Similarly, Isaac Murray, an eighth grader at Gypsum Creek Middle, said he joined because “I love science and it sounded really cool,” and with some convincing from a friend already on the team.
Through Science Olympiad, students learn some specific, technical skills. Murray, reflecting on a Sounds of Music Olympiad event, said he learned “there is a lot of thought that goes into a musical instrument creation and that music halls really do help a lot with acoustics.”
Kai Thayer, an 11th grader at Battle Mountain, said that the biggest skills learned were coding and decrypting.
“I competed in the Code Busters event, and it’s really interesting to learn the history of something so important that was at one point used worldwide. It’s also not something I’ve ever really been exposed to before, so it was completely new to me,” Thayer said.
Aside from STEM-specific skills, students also gain valuable life lessons. Kimberly Garcia Flores, a seventh grader at Berry Creek Middle, said that she has learned how to “really push myself through challenges in order to succeed.”
“The Science Olympiad competition provides a meaningful audience outside of school for students to display their learning,” said Mandy Bolla, the Gypsum Creek Middle School Science Olympiad coach. “It was amazing to see their motivation increase when their initial attempts failed because they had a purpose to figure it out besides just working for a grade.”
This knowledge extends to the coaches, who recounted learning things like resilience, determination, collaboration, tenacity and humility.
“Just because I am the adult in the room, it does not mean I have all the answers or sometimes, any, of the answers. Learning to say ‘I don’t know’ has fostered some really cool engineering solutions that I would have never been able to come up with myself,” said Roberts, the Battle Mountain coach, who added that she’s also learned the importance of “how play can fuel productivity.”
The competitions also allow the students to explore college campuses around the state and meet their peers, which gives students the opportunity to think about and plan for their future.
“My favorite part of joining the BCMS Science Olympiad team was making new friends in other grades and seeing the different colleges and high schools,” said Freya Sarmiento, a seventh grader at Berry Creek. “The places I saw inspired me by helping me continue my learning and knowing that someday I will go to college.”
Oyler recounted one of her favorite quotes from a former Science Olympiad student: “Wow, after attending Science Olympiad, I realized that these are the kids I will be competing against to get into engineering school, I need to step up my game.”
Oyler added that this student got into Stanford but ended up at the University of Colorado Boulder on a full ride: “He is now an engineer in California, free of college debt.”
Only the first-place team from each state will travel to the National Science Olympiad competition, which will be held at the University of Kansas later this year.
While the Education Foundation of Eagle County has provided a grant for transportation for the last three years, students are expected to fundraise to attend these competitions, and are still attempting to raise between $500 and $1,200 for future events, Oyler said.
The Eagle County School District students competing on Saturday, April 1 at the 2023 Colorado State Science Olympiad competition are:
Berry Creek Middle School
- Aiden Dirceu Serna Salazar, sixth grade
- Josue Reyes, sixth grade
- Maximilian S Carrasco, sixth grade
- Steven Mancia, sixth grade
- Tomas Alvarez Bayon, sixth grade
- Tomas Nelson, sixth grade
- Will Heinz, sixth grade
- Alexander Flores Leyva, seventh grade
- Freya Sarmiento, seventh grade
- Kimberly Garcia, seventh grade
Battle Mountain High School
- Chase Williams, ninth grade
- Caden McCommons, 10th grade
- Hayden Rowe, 10th grade
- Izzy Zastrow, 10th grade
- Sage Gwin, 10th grade
- Scarlett Novak, 10th grade
- Zahra Stone, 10th grade
- Duncan Scherr, 11th grade
- Jack Habiger, 11th grade
- Kai Thayer, 11th grade
- Kathryn Wilson, 11th grade
- Nicholas Dale, 11th grade
- Tyler Long, 12th grade
Eagle Valley Middle School
- Ulysses Lopez, sixth grade
- Mattox Swanson, seventh grade
- Scanlen Rogers, seventh grade
- Ava Mulholland-Brueck, seventh grade