State youth compete in academics

By Madeline Keleher

The hundreds of middle school and high school students who swarmed the Quad on Saturday were not prospective students taking tours of the campus; they were some of the top technical students representing 39 middle schools and 34 high schools from across Illinois in the state Science Olympiad competition.

The state finals are held at the University every year, and last year the national tournament was held here as well. Any student who won a first place medal at the national tournament last year was offered a scholarship that covered the University tuition.

Fourteen thousand schools across the nation competed in the tournament last year, according to the Science Olympiad Web site. The tournament consists of 23 events, with two or three members from each 15-person team competing in any given event. The academic events cover chemistry, biology and physics, and the building events involve designing robots, catapults and rubber-band-powered airplanes.

Adam Gervasio and Max Pardo, both juniors at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Ill., were two of the 1,100 students who competed in the state tournament on Saturday. This is their second year competing.

“It’s fun and very competitive,” Pardo said. “It can be hard at times, but it’s worth it.”

John Gervasio, who graduated from the University in the 1960s with a degree in electrical engineering, is now a volunteer coach for the robot event.

“This is an important competition, because it makes the kids think in ways that they need to think to succeed in business and science,” Gervasio said. “It makes them understand that engineering is not something you can approach by just putting something down on paper and having it work right away.”

People crowded around the atrium in the first floor of the English building to watch the robot competition below. Some robots were successful, but others experienced technical difficulties. One team’s robot fell to pieces during the competition.

“You can’t get discouraged when your idea doesn’t work the first time,” John Gervasio said. “In real life, sometimes things don’t go your way either.”

New Trier High School in Winnetka, Ill., won first place for the fifth year in a row and will be moving on along with the second place team, Niles West in Skokie, Ill., to represent Illinois in the national tournament at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind., in May.

Tatsuya Oishi, senior at New Trier High School, won three medals. He has been competing since he was a freshman.

“It’s my forte,” he said. “Some people can do music, some can do sports – I do science.”