I spent seven years of my life competing in Science Olympiad. And by competing in, I mean studying 500 hours a year for (ok, less in middle school). The organization hosts regional, state, and national competitions that involve students competing in pairs in 23 events, each spanning completely different fields of science or engineering. Being a part of this organization taught me so many things about myself, not to mention years and years of extracurricular science. I can truly say that Science Olympiad was the reason I came to Caltech, but I’ll get into that later.I learned leadership skills, organizational skills, study habits, how to read academic journals, how to read an anatomy textbook in French class but look like you’re doing busywork, etc. I got the chance to study anatomy, protein biochemistry, epidemiology, organic chemistry, forensic science, and genetics between the ages of 14 and 17. Biology classes in freshman year of college are so easy to follow when you’ve already read about all of the topics! My interest in proteins through Science Olympiad led me to the two research labs I have worked in, as well as to my SURF grant last summer. I made lifelong friends (guaranteed for anyone who participates in an activity that takes up a lot of your time and all of your love) and I am still dating my senior-year co-captain (romantic relationships not guaranteed).
The organization itself does a ton of outreach: It trains middle school and high school teachers to be coaches and involve their students in fields of science they’ve probably never heard of (Forestry, Entomology, Herpetology, Optics?). They also run several Urban Schools Initiatives programs across the country, that trains inner city students to participate in partial competitions and encourages schools to adopt as much of the program as they are able (shout out to the Philadelphia chapter, run by my former middle school coach and some of my friends from high school!).
The Caltech Science Olympiad club organizes and helps run the LA regional and SoCal state Science Olympiad competitions, and several local invitational competitions. A ton of Caltech students participated in Science Olympiad in high school, so the club has a ton of volunteers. On February 28th, we hiked to Occidental College to host the regional competition. I helped proctor the Science Crime Busters (forensic science) event for the middle school division, an event I competed in for three years…about 6 years ago (oh god I am old oh dear). I also helped grade the protein models from the Protein Modeling event, which I competed in for three years in high school, and which kickstarted my love of bioengineering and biochemistry.
Science Olympiad got me through high school. I was So. Damn. Bored. in all of my classes, except for the three hours after school every day where I got the chance to goof off and study with my friends. Probably no one, apart from the readership of these blogs, knows what I’m talking about when I say spending all of your free time learning something new, something awesome, something sciencey, is the best choice you could make. I seriously went into college admissions interviews and when asked, “What do you do for fun?” I would answer “Science Olympiad” with complete honesty. Science Olympiad gave me the opportunity to explore fields of science that I would have had no entry to in high school (or middle school, especially), and through that venue I found the fields that I fell in love with and decided to pursue. Science Olympiad is the reason I decided to go to a capital-I-Institute for college.
I am so lucky to be able to contribute to this organization and volunteer at competitions now that I’m in college, and I urge everyone out there who has had the opportunity to participate in FIRST robotics, VEX, TSA, SO, or any other science outreach program in high school to give back after they graduate! Help foster that love for creation and discovery in other students.
I’m positive that everyone reading the Caltech admissions blogs has some hobby that they feel this passionate about. What do you do for nerdy fun? Do you build things in your garage? Read textbooks for fun (guilty)? Build robots that smash into each other? Volunteer firefight? Play and build video games? Code websites? Design rockets? Do research? I want to know what makes you light up and talk for an hour when people ask you what you do for fun.