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Friday, April 19, 2024 — Houston, TX

Rice hosts Science Olympiad Tournament

Courtesy Aishani Gargapati

By Hope Yang     2/13/24 10:15pm

For the first time, the Rice Science Olympiad Alumni Association invited 14 middle school teams from around Houston to the Rice University Science Olympiad Regional Tournament Feb. 3. Previously open to only high school students, the team decided to include middle school teams for their second regional, according to the association’s co-director Aishani Gargapati.

“Last year, we conducted our first regional tournament here at Rice … which included only high school teams,” Gargapati, a Wiess College senior, said. “This year, we wanted to be more of a resource and help out the Houston community, so we included Division B teams, [which are] middle school teams.”  

The Rice Science Olympiad Alumni Association hosts annual STEM competitions on campus for students throughout Houston, according to Garapati.

“Our organization aims to engage in STEM outreach within the Houston community,” Gargapati said. “Usually, every year, we host an invitational, which is like a competition, or a regional tournament, which is where student teams from all over the state of Texas compete in a tournament and can advance to the state and national levels.” 

Due to the need for regional tournaments that included middle school participants, the team decided to incorporate Division B groups.

“The Science Olympiad director for the state of Texas … contacted us a little bit before August, and asked, ‘Are you able to also include middle school teams in your regional tournament?’” Gargapati said. “There was actually a very strong need for teams to compete in regional tournaments, and [we thought] this would be great for the organization, even though it might be hard.” 

According to Gargapati, the team faced challenges with expanding the tournament due to tight resources but also received help from a few volunteers from other universities.

“We have a very small campus and also a limited team and resources … to proctor both Division B and C at the same time on the same day can be very tough, but [the tournament] worked out because everyone’s very open and receptive,” Gargapati said. 

Harsha Magesh, a sixth-grade student from Sprague Middle School competing at the Science Olympiad, said that he enjoyed the competition and getting to be on Rice campus.

“I liked [the tournament],” Magesh said. “It’s just that at first, my mom made me participate. It was fun to just walk around the college and see how things are … [I’d] probably do it again. It’s just [that] you have to study a lot.” 

Catherine Zhou, an event supervisor for the Olympiad, said that the middle school students were excited about the competition and performed well.

“It’s so interesting seeing how young they are. I can’t really imagine it. These tests are really hard; they’re all written for the high school level,” Zhou, a Will Rice College freshman, said. “The fact that [the middle school teams are] able to still compete and even score sometimes better than high school teams is really cool to see.” 

Lilian He, an event supervisor, said that she hoped the Olympiad would help students learn science in a fun environment.

“My goal in volunteering is to be able to inspire the same sort of feelings in the students that I had when I was in the Science Olympiad,” He, a Martel College junior, said. “The Science Olympiad is so different from just studying science in a classroom. I think it’s supposed to be fun and educational. [I think it’s good] that we can run that sort of tournament at Rice, and that all the students can come out feeling accomplished or feeling like they’ve learned something new.”

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