Science Olympians earn second national title

Michelle Li (left) and Elizabeth Yu (right) watch as their gravity vehicle glides down at Solon Invitational.

Drew Hoffmaster | The Chronicle

The Mason High School (MHS) Science Olympiad team scored their second consecutive national title in May 2022 in an impressive feat of teamwork and persistence.

Science olympiad is a nationwide competition where students partake in a multitude of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) events. These events can range from taking a test to building a mousetrap car.

Senior Katie Wilson, who was one of Mason High School’s Science Olympiad team captains during the 2022 national competition, competed in the Bridge, Anatomy and Physiology, Green Generation, and Dynamic Planet events. Wilson did not only play a large role in the team’s 2022 nationals win but their 2021 win as well.

“We were not expecting to do as well as we did,” Wilson said. “But at the last minute, we were able to pull it together and bring out a second-year victory.”

When the pandemic hit in 2020 and canceled that year’s science olympiad nationals, the team felt their preparation had gone to waste. As a result, they poured their extra time and energy into preparing for the 2021 competition. Wilson said the team thought winning nationals was beyond their reach since the best the team had ever achieved was second place three years prior.

“I think [2021] was our strongest year ever,” says Wilson. “We knew that we could do somewhat well, but none of us expected a full win.”

Wilson started science olympiad when she was in eighth grade. At first, Wilson only joined the middle school team because her friends were on it, but Wilson said she eventually developed a passion for it.

“I got really into it, really fast, and kind of fell down the [science olympiad] rabbit hole,” Wilson said. “[I] have been involved in it ever since.”

Like Wilson, the rest of the MHS Science Olympiad team dedicated themselves to excelling at the national competition. They spent countless late nights practicing at the school and devoted many hours meeting up at each other’s houses to take practice tests and study. Wilson said huge chunks of their free time at home were committed to honing and perfecting the scientific fields in which they specialized.

“I spent over 25 hours a week on science olympiad,” Wilson said. “So it’s a lot of time [spent] and a full-time job for all of us.”

While the team’s excruciating effort helped them to achieve a national title in 2021, they started to feel the effects of their non-stop studying during the 2022 year. One of the team’s event leaders, Senior Michelle Chen, said she felt the extent of this burnout as a result of pushing herself to the limit in 2021. Chen also said the burnout combined with the pressure to win nationals again and the loss of the seniors from the past year made 2022 an extremely difficult competition season.

“It was kind of our job to fill those shoes and it was pretty difficult,” Chen said. “Especially coming off the virtual season where everything was so different.”

As the final week before nationals arrived, the upcoming competition date spurred the team back into action. Chen said that the whole team came together to help each other prepare as much as possible and this teamwork was why the MHS Science Olympiad team managed to win another national title.

“It was pretty unexpected,” Chen said. “We really could have worked harder this year, but a lot was going on, and we knew it would be difficult to compare with all of these really good schools who have full-on programs just for it.”

Just as after the 2021 nationals win, the MHS Science Olympiad team is feeling the pressure once again as they begin preparing for a new competition season.  Senior Amir Akbar said that in addition to the pressure of continuing their winning streak, the team must now also adjust to losing their class of 2022 seniors who played a large role in the team’s win.

“It was really close last year and now [this year] it’s kind of cutthroat,” Akbar said. “We lost a really strong senior class that graduated last year, so we’re going to try filling up the holes.”

Science olympiad has also inspired many of the members to want to pursue a STEM field after high school. Akbar said the exposure science olympiad provided him to the STEM world helped him decide on a potential career.

“Science olympiad helped me explore different areas of science,” Akbar said. “After competing and researching for Science Olympiad, I definitely want to go into a STEM field.”

To the team members, most of whom have had science olympiad in their lives since middle school, science olympiad is their community within MHS. Akbar said he ultimately felt like science olympiad helped him get out of his comfort zone and being with the team allowed him to truly be himself.

“I’m usually very reserved and quiet,” Akbar said. “But in science olympiad, I can talk about stuff that interests me.”

MHS Science Olympiad team members love competing in science olympiad altogether. Akbar said the bonds they form while under the stress of studying, learning, and practicing brings them closer with each other creating a close-knit group.

“We always hang out after [competitions] and go to dinner,” Akbar commented. “I feel like this is really [cliche], but [science olympiad] is like one big family.”

Photo contributed by Katie Wilson