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Science Olympiad Wins the Gold for Teamwork

by Dr. Joe Glass

Science Olympiad was a day filled with smiles.


Bungee drop

At the Winter Olympics in Sochi, participants
go for the gold.

At the Science Olympiad in Aston, participants
go for the goal.

There was competition and winners, but the day
was mostly about cooperation and teamwork.


Consider the logistics involved simply to bring more than 1,200 students from 36 high schools and 27 middle schools throughout Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties to Neumann University’s campus for opening ceremonies at 8:30 a.m. It’s a lot of phone calls and permission slips. It’s a lot of emails, texts, conversations and meetings among teachers, students, parents, administrators, club advisors and bus companies.  And it’s not just transporting students. There are hundreds of balsa wood flying machines, metallic robotic vehicles, PVC vibraphones, magnetic trains, boats, beakers, stopwatches, and eggs -- dozens of eggs.


As each yellow bus, van and parent-driven car pulled into the parking lot, it marked another triumph of cooperation and teamwork. Yet these were just the preliminaries. The feature presentation began as the bus and car doors opened.


The Southeastern Pennsylvania Science Olympiad Regional Competition began in 1985. Organized by Dick and Mimi Smith, it involved just 30 teams competing in one location. Today it features more than 300 teams competing in six regional locations across the state. But Neumann marked a new location. 


Consider the logistics. Host 30 events for high school students, another 30 for middle school students and all require classrooms, laboratories, auditoriums and stairwells. Add opening, closing and award ceremonies. Provide participants, parents, bus drivers and judges with meals, snacks, chairs, chargers, wi-fi, restrooms and directions – dozens of directions.


As each agenda item completed it marked another triumph of cooperation and teamwork – Neumann style.


Even the Bachmann stairwells were
used for experiments

As the buses and cars entered campus, ample signage and extra security personnel greeted them. As participants entered the Mirenda Center, fifty-five student volunteers registered them. The opening ceremony featured Diandra Gore (senior) singing the national anthem and Dr. Gerry O’Sullivan (vice president for Academic Affairs) declaring, “Let the games begin.” Twenty-seven faculty and staff were on-hand to offer directions, meal tickets and support. Ambassador Anthony Mirenda timed the flights of fancy gliders. Staff transformed the McNichol room into a drivers’ lounge and the Devine Hospitality Suite into volunteer headquarters. Sodexo provided a snack bar in the Atrium and a full dining service in the Life Center. 


Later in the day, the men’s basketball team hosted relay races on the gym floor; representatives from student government awarded more than fifty door prizes and gift bags – donated from every department on campus. Awards were distributed by President Rosalie Mirenda and Vice President Sr. Marguerite O’Beirne.


Dozens of volunteers were on hand all day
The Mirenda Center was packed for the awards ceremony at the end of the day

Throughout the day many attendees commented on the campus environment. Janice Rufo, a Devon Prep parent attending her fourth Olympiad with son Christopher and his teammates, summed up their observations: “The facilities are fantastic and everyone is so friendly. It’s very well organized,” she said.


Roger Demos, Pennsylvania’s State Olympiad Director also gave high praise to Neumann’s campus, facilities and staff, citing in particular the work of Dr. Sylvia Riviello, an assistant professor of chemistry at Neumann and site director for the regional tournament.


Riviello was quick to share the spotlight.


“Today is the result of many people working together,” she said at the closing ceremony. Riviello credited Margaret Stewart, assistant professor of communication & media arts who served as site and volunteer coordinator, Amy Brown Savitz, assistant professor of chemistry who served as coach coordinator, and Rebecca Petre Sullivan, assistant professor of biology who served as events coordinator.


The gold and the goal has certainly been achieved. The Olympiad emphasizes “learning, participation, interaction, having fun and developing team spirit,” according to the organization’s website. During preparation, coaches and students are reminded of the words of Bill Koch (Olympic Cross Country Ski medal winner), who said, "Winning isn't everything. The striving for excellence is - it's the trying and the caring that is important - winning is a bonus."


Jonathan Sklansky, a seventh-grade “Metric Mastery” contestant from Stetson Middle School in West Chester agrees, “It’s exciting. The competition is great for learning how others try to solve the problem. It teaches us how to improve.”


Bridget Dunleavy, an eighth grade “Disease Detective” participant from Twin Valley Middle School added, “The two best things about the day are being on a college campus and seeing what everyone else is doing.” 

On this college campus, everyone is working together.


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