By Gabe Licht
DELANO, MN For 18 out of the past 19 years, the Delano High School Science Olympiad team has competed in the state tournament.
That streak will continue Saturday, March 7, as the team competes against 29 other teams at Bethel University.
“We have kids that work hard and have a genuine interest in doing well,” said Karen Hohenstein, who coaches the high school team with Boak Wiesner. “It speaks to the types of kids we have in Delano. We have really well-rounded kids that we have the opportunity to work with. They take the competition seriously. They work hard and have good success.”
That includes a second-place finish at the regional competition at Mounds View High School Feb. 7 and a fifth-place finish, out of 25 teams, at the Border Battle Invititational at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Jan. 24.
Fifteen students are a part of the team that qualified for state.
“There are no individual advancers to state,” Hohenstein said. “You really depend on your entire team to do well. If you have a few events that score poorly, that can really affect your team status and chances to go to state.”
Collectively, they compete in 23 events.
“They range from things like building events . . . to other events that are content-based,” Hohenstein said.
One building event requires students to build a bridge out of balsa wood, with the lightest bridge supporting the most weight winning.
“This year, there’s also an event called scrambler,” Hohenstein said. “Students build a car and put a raw egg on the front of it. The task is to go as fast as possible toward a target and stop without scrambling the egg by smashing into the wall.”
The kicker is that students don’t know how far they need to go until they get to the competition. That uncertainty is a theme for many of the events.
Content-based events focus on topics like chemistry and cell biology.
“Sometimes, it’s just a paper-pencil test,” Hohenstein said. “Other times, there’s also a lab event. Each event is really unique.”
Students sign up for events based on interest.
“Some events are always very popular, like forensics,” Hohenstein said. “Then, we have a few events like fossils that, unless you’re into fossils, that’s not largely popular. So, sometimes, we’re trying to figure out who will take this event that no one wants to cover.”
Each student is involved in three to five events.
They often learn to be independent thinkers and researchers.
“Sometimes, the kids learn more than I know because some of the topics I know nothing about,” Hohenstein said. “I say, ‘Go look at the rules.’ There’s a website they can use as a resource that’s our starting point. They just have to learn the material and do research on their own. They learn to be independent.”
To help the students, the team practices three times per week during the Science Olympiad season, which runs from December to early March.
Junior Katie Hemingway said she enjoys earth science events, such as geologic mapping and green generation, which looks at the environment, how everything interacts, and the legislative aspect of how the government works to protect the environment.
“I like earth science because it makes sense to me,” Hemingway said. “You can look outside and see it right in front of you.”
“I’m the opposite of Katie,” sophomore Mathea Schafer said. “I do the biology part.”
She is also part of the scrambler team.
“It’s stressful sometimes,” Schafer said. “Building a car the day before competition is not fun.”
Junior Hannah Thoelke is involved in geological mapping, bridge building, and Wright stuff, which is a nod to the Wright brothers.
“You have to build a plane to stay up in the air as long as it can,” Thoelke said.
She enjoys physics and wishes Science Olympiad included more physics events. Nonetheless, she enjoys being involved in a wide range of events.
Hemingway followed her siblings’ lead when she decided to join Science Olympiad.
“My sister was really good at it,” Hemingway said. “They went to nationals when my sister was in eighth grade and I went along when I was 8. It was super cool and I said, ‘I want to do that.’ It’s just what I do and I love the people in it.”
Schafer loves a good challenge, and Science Olympiad is just that.
“I do it because it’s challenging compared to sometimes in school when I don’t feel challenged enough,” Schafer said. “And, it’s fun to use my problem-solving skills with people I enjoy spending time with. We get to look at different parts of science we don’t normally get to look at in classrooms.”
Hohenstein likes the event because she gets to see her students in a different environment.
“It is a great opportunity for me to see the kids outside of the classroom,” Hohenstein said. “They show a different side of themselves when they’re in an activity like this, as opposed to a classroom setting.
“I also really enjoy how students learn to think outside the box and how to troubleshoot,” Hohenstein continued. “One of my goals is they’ll become more critical thinkers through Science Olympiad.”
She added that the academic extracurricular activity forces students to be innovative and apply the science they’ve learned, rather than just learning something for a test.
She is proud of her students and the success they’ve had.
“We’ve had good success given the size of our district,” Hohenstein said. “There’s not class divisions so we compete against schools like Eden Prairie, St. Paul Central, Wayzata, and those types of teams. We always feel good when we come back from competition because it speaks well of our students.”
The team consists of Allie Bunker, Thoelke, Shafer, Chloe Litts, Tayler Hedtke, Jake Sorenson, Nikki Hannan, Eric Palan, Hemingway, Stephanie Almquist, Grant Hellmich, Lars Osmon, Steven Hartley, and Hannah Bekkala.