Professors reflect on the event’s impact
There are some things that stand the test of time. Traditions, annual events, an old Nokia phone that just won’t break. For the IU Northwest campus, one of those time-tested treasures is the Science Olympiad.
The Science Olympiad is a national competition founded in 1984 that first came to IU Northwest in the late 80’s. The event is geared toward middle and high school students and features multiple rounds of science-oriented competition. However, the campus’s first stint with the competition wasn’t to last.
That is, until Nelson DeLeon, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, took up the helm. Along with his wife Carol (Wood), and a little inspiration from his science-minded children, DeLeon brought the event back to campus in 2001.
"A lot of the teams come from the Northwest region," he said. "We absolutely needed a competition at IU Northwest. So, we decided to put together a tournament and figure it out."
In the 20 years since then, the Science Olympiad has become a staple of the IU Northwest campus and surrounding community. DeLeon mentioned that the event has become a great way to enhance the campus’s visibility.
"Everybody knows that in mid-February it’s time to get ready for Science Olympiad," he said. "We do whatever it takes to have all these teams come here and experience IU Northwest."
After two decades of promoting the university and creating an incredible experience for high school students, DeLeon handed over the reins to Harold Olivey, a clinical assistant professor of biology.
Although today Olivey is a professor teaching classes of his own, he was once a high school student preparing to compete in Science Olympiad himself. In fact, the competition helped motivate him to pursue a career in science. "I went to the national tournament twice, so Science Olympiad has always been really important to me," he said.
At its core, Science Olympiad is about inspiring middle and high school students to think like scientists. But that isn’t where the benefits end. "We have a lot of IU Northwest students who run events," Olivey said. "It’s a good way for them to act as ambassadors of the university."
DeLeon particularly enjoys the sense of community the event brings. He said that faculty, students, staff, and local media all get involved with Science Olympiad in one way or another. "It pays off for everybody," he said. "It brings us together in a focused way for something that everybody agrees is a good thing."
Both DeLeon and Olivey hope that participating students feel that sense of camaraderie as well. "These competing students have done a ton of work," Olivey said. "It’s a good reminder that there’s a lot of good going on in our local middle and high schools."
As the big day arrived, Olivey was particularly excited to see the joy on the students’ faces when they applied their skills and showed off their hard work. "This is how we keep students excited and help build that pipeline to train future scientists."
Olivey and DeLeon each credit the wider campus community with the Science Olympiad’s success. After all, it truly takes a village to put on such a massive event. Thanks to the steering committee, volunteers, and the tireless work of DeLeon and his wife, the Science Olympiad is a well-oiled machine. And this machine seems to be built to last.