Science Olympiad @ MIT is a completely student run group with the simple goal of improving Science Olympiad. Science Olympiad is a fantastic high school science competition that helps students develop a passion for science and unites like-minded individuals. We want to help it become even better. This past January, we ran an invitational at MIT that brought over 60 teams from 14 states. There were over 1,000 people on campus for the tournament. Our five person committee spent a year and half planning the event. Here's how we did it.
Science Olympiad @ MIT was established as an official MIT student group by Connor Duffy and myself in September, 2013. I first met Connor when we were both seniors in high school during MIT's Campus Preview Weekend. We were both running through the tunnels of main campus at an Underground Capture The Flag event. I saw him again, a couple months later, on stage at the 2012 Science Olympiad National Tournament.
Fast-forward to the beginning of freshman year: Connor and I decided to start a student group to give back to the Science Olympiad community, and thus SO@MIT was born. Our big goal was to run a Science Olympiad Invitational on MIT’s campus. In over 25 years since the start of Science Olympiad, a tournament had never been held on MIT's campus. We didn’t think we would be able to pull it off well in our first year, since we were just settling into college, and it would only leave us a couple months to organize it all.
Instead, we decided to spend the first year traveling to other tournaments throughout New England. We had two goals in mind: to help the organizers run the tournament, and to figure out how to run a successful Science Olympiad tournament. We even went to the Massachusetts State Tournament to observe their methods.
During that period of time, we started having conversations about the tournament that we wanted to run the following year. We tried to answer a lofty but important question: what would the perfect Science Olympiad Invitational look like?
We settled on some simple guidelines:
- The tournament should be very easy for the coaches: coaches won’t have to write tests, won’t have to be event supervisors, and won’t have to proctor events.
- The tournament should allow the students to focus on their events: kids shouldn't get lost, kids shouldn't have to deal with tests that are too easy, kids shouldn't have to deal with proctors that don't know the rules.
- Proctors and volunteers should have to do as little work as possible: they shouldn't have to bother bringing supplies - just send us the test or the event materials and we'll print them and buy the supplies.
Step one in planning a Science Olympiad tournament is "designing" it. This first step is crucial because it is where all of the big decisions about how the tournament will run are discussed. Will each team have their own team room? Can we run every single event? When does registration open? How many teams can we hold? Where will the award ceremony take place? What departments on campus will be the hardest to deal with? The sort of questions that the rest of the planning will be based on were all decided in the first few meetings. Though we made these decisions early on, they were not taken lightly. Long discussions took place trying to consider the ramifications of each decision.
The answer to each "design question" went back to our initial goal: try to make it the perfect Science Olympiad tournament. So does each school get their own team room? Of course. Will the award ceremony be in the nicest auditorium on campus? Of course. Will we be sure to run all national events, even if it's hard to get lab rooms? Of course.
Then we made decisions about how to communicate with schools. We would allow around 60 teams, with a waitlist. We would open registration early in the school year, to allow teams to plan ahead. Registration fees would have to be sent within a couple months to confirm their registration. Connor would be the main point of contact for questions from the coaches. I handled finances and registration fees. Finally, we got to the little details, but we took them just as seriously. We chose where each event would take place, where all the homerooms would be. We set the schedule for events to mimic nationals's conflicts. All decisions to keep it easy for coaches, easy for students, and easy for volunteers.
It's amazing how many departments of MIT we had to interact with for the tournament. This was definitely one of the most surprising things. We had to talk to the MIT Police, the Campus Activities Complex, the Association of Student Activities, departments for each building we would occupy, and more. My focus was the money, but ask the rest of the planning team how many meetings they had with MIT employeees!
The tournament took place on January 24th. This is the third weekend of MIT's Independent Activities Period (which takes the month of January each year). I was working at NASA for the month, and many people on the planning committee were off campus for different reasons. So we all arrived back on campus late Thursday night, 2 days before the tournament. Here's a timeline of the controlled chaos that ensued:
Thursday (2 days before)
- 09:00pm: Planning Committee meeting (without me) to make a game plan for Friday.
- 10:00pm: I take off from Regan National Airport on my way to Boston.
- 11:30pm: I arrive back at MIT.
Friday (The day before)
- 10:00am: Meet in Bush Room (our HQ) to start organizing. It begins to snow and doesn't stop until the early hours of Saturday.
- 12:00pm: Connor meets with MIT departments to get keys for rooms
- 02:00pm: We finalize team packets and get ready for early check-ins
- 07:00pm: Teams start checking-in in the Bush Room.
- 09:00pm: Volunteer meeting for general volunteers and event supervisors.
- 10:00pm: I bring out of town guests to Zeta Psi to stay over for the night.
- 01:00am: (Technically Saturday) Signing continues as the planning committee runs around campus putting directions to events everywhere.
- 04:00am: I go to sleep for a few hours, though a few members stay up the entire night to put finishing touches on everything.
- 06:00am: Planning committee meets in HQ and makes sure everything is ready.
- 07:00am: Teams arrive for check-in. It had snowed most of Friday, and the snow is making it very hard for teams to arrive on time.
- 07:00am: Impound for impound-required events continues as planned.
- 08:15am: 15 minutes before the first event should start, the decision is made to delay the entire tournament 30 minutes due to weather.
- 8:21am: We continue to blast text messages and emails to volunteers and coaches to alert them of the delay.
- 09:00am: First time block events (originally scheduled for 8:30) begin.
- 11:25am: Tournament is delayed another 15 minutes after a fire alarm goes off in one of the buildings that events are taking place in.
- 12:00pm: Tournament seems to be going smoothly. Even with a 45 minute delay, there have been no major accidents and very little confusion.
- 04:30pm: Events end on the 45 minute delay schedule. Since the delay, two more fire alarms have gone off in the same building, but it has not happened during event times and therefore caused no further delays.
- 05:00pm: Many events are in HQ grading. All hands on deck to help grade test based events.
- 05:45pm: Award ceremony starts on time!
- 06:00pm: Award ceremony keynote speeches continue as event grading continues to finish.
- 06:15pm: Only a few events are still being scored, and most events have been entered into the master score sheet.
- 06:30pm: All events have been scored and are in the master score sheet, however it is discovered that the scoring system is broken. The system that automatically tallies overall results, as well as creates the PowerPoint slideshow, is not working.
- 06:45pm: Connor begins announcing individual event results as he receives them in small batches while I create slides to display on the screen from HQ. Volunteers help sprint flash drives with results from HQ to Kresge (the award ceremoney auditorium).
- 07:00pm: Connor is about 10 events through, however he only has 12 events worth of scores. I create the slides for the rest of the events while he lags a few events behind.
- 07:15pm: All event results have gotten to Connor, as he announces the final events and the team results.
- 07:45pm: In under 2 hours from the official starting time, awards is complete and teams begin to leave.
- 08:30pm: Event supervisors and the planning committee go out to dinner to celebrate.
- 09:30pm: Dinner concludes and everyone heads back home. Clean up can wait until Sunday.
Sunday (Day after)
- 10:00am: We meet in HQ to collect our belongings.
- 11:30am: I go to Logan Airport to head back to NASA for my final week of work.
- 03:00pm: I arrive back in D.C. On Monday, I return to work as normal, as if it was just a regular weekend.
- 05:00pm: Adam was in D.C. for an interview. I took the Orange Line out to Virgina and grabbed dinner with him - it was great catching up.
The feedback was incredible. The founder of Science Olympiad, Dr. Gerard Putz, sent us a note of congratulations. A member of the national board was at MIT to observe our tournament, and he told us that it was one of the best run tournaments he's ever seen. A coach of a team that participated emailed us saying: That was the best tournament I have attended in my six years as a coach - which includes six trips to Nationals. Thank you very much! Finally, there was a great article in Scientific American that features our invitational.
This invitational would not have been possible without the incredible collaboration of Connor Duffy and the entire planning committee, as well as all of the event supervisors and volunteers that traveled to MIT one snowy winter weekend. We can't wait for next year's!
1.5 years in the making. 1,000 students. 10,000s of emails. One successful weekend to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers. One successful weekend to better the Science Olympiad organization. One successful tournament to give back to the organization that we spent our lives on in high school.