16:29 PM

Science Olympians return to regional STEM competition at South Texas College

Hundreds of local students are proving that the Rio Grande Valley region generates as much passion for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) as anywhere in the nation, and South Texas College plays a major role in promoting interest.  

Some of the brightest and most promising young scientific minds recently met for a fierce competition on STC’s Pecan Campus, competing in the 17th Annual Regional Science Olympiad.

“I think the excitement is really high. I know the students really wanted to come and compete and everyone is excited to be back, from the students to the event coordinators,” said Ludivina Avila, Ph.D, STC chemistry faculty and coordinator of the regional Olympiad event. “Last year was a bit of an off year due to the pandemic, but it’s great to get back to the full face-to-face competition we have had in past years.”

Avila manages the RGV portion of the Olympiad, which includes academic events like “Anatomy” and “Physiology” and “Rocks and Minerals” to hands-on experiments like “Trajectory” and “Flight,” where students build and fly homemade aircraft, or the “Bridge event” which tests a team’s ability to build a structurally efficient but strong bridge.

Events are mostly hands-on, and ranged from mouse trap vehicles, to building a hydrometer for the food science event. Some events like forensics involve a fictionalized crime scene where students try different experiments in order to solve the case.

This gives us hope that our region will continue to be focused on STEM because the Rio Grande Valley is probably the only area in the state of Texas that truly focuses on STEM education. We are going to keep this momentum going.

Dr. Ludivina Avila, STC chemistry faculty and coordinator for Regional Science Olympiad

“The whole purpose behind this Olympiad, I think, is to enhance interest in STEM areas and STC has been doing this for many years. Thanks to our faculty and the leadership of Dr. (Ludivina) Avila, who has been heading this for many years, I have come to see how exciting it is to see our young students in junior high and high school compete in high technology competitions,” said Ali Esmaeili, Ph.D., STC dean of the Division of Math, Science and Bachelor Programs, who was attending the Science Olympiad as a show of support for students. “We have seen how it increases interest in STEM fields, which we desperately need help in. This gives us hope that our region will continue to be focused on STEM because the Rio Grande Valley is probably the only area in the state of Texas that truly focuses on STEM education. We are going to keep this momentum going.”

Science Olympiad is a nonprofit organization developed over 30 years ago to improve the quality of science education for students. Hosted by the Physical Science Department at South Texas College, the event is a way to provide recognition of outstanding achievement in science education by both students and teachers from all 50 states competing at the regional, state and national level.

The Olympiad consists of interscholastic competitions for students in grades 6-12 centered around events in STEM.

“These are students who practice and build their own projects…we are focusing on environmental chemistry and chemistry labs,” said Cesar Perez, teacher and coach of McAllen High School’s Science Olympiad team, which brought 13 students to compete at the event. “I know a lot of emphasis is put on team sports like football and basketball which is great, but it’s also great that students compete to expand their minds by joining STEM-related fields and events. In reality, we need to advance STEM as an entire country because we are falling behind. It all starts here.”   

The RGV Regional is part of the Science Olympiad competition that sends the top teams to the next level of competition, the State Science Olympiad in College Station and continues to the national stage.

Lamar Academy, an International Baccalaureate campus with McAllen ISD, took first place in the high school division. Alamo Heights from San Antonio took first place in the middle school division.  

The state tournament for the Science Olympiad takes place April 22-23 at Texas A&M College Station.

This year, teams will have a chance to advance to Wichita State University, which will host the 2023 Science Olympiad National Tournament on May 19-20.

“It has been a real great journey to expand our minds through these different events. It has been filled with new experiences beyond the typical curriculum that we find in our classes,” said McAllen High School student Jake Fallek, who is the salutatorian of his high school class and participated in the Chemistry Lab and Environmental Chemistry Lab as well as Flight events at the Olympiad. “Through the competition, we go beyond that. This has given me the capacity to challenge myself. I love the sciences and I am trying to compete and do as much as I possibly can with that from science fair competitions to a whole bunch of academic activities. I love learning about the sciences, especially chemistry and giving myself more stuff to learn.”

 Fallek plans to pursue a career in chemical engineering.   

For more information about the Science Olympiad, including a list of advancing teams, contact regional director Dr. Avila at (956) 872-3511 or through e-mail at aludy@southtexascollege.edu.