Nate Purk has a lot of patience.
Otherwise, how would the Oak Harbor High School student stand the repetitive motion of watching his self-built vehicle race along a makeshift track, measure the distance, calculate further distance and repeat again and again in quiet moments between classes and after school.
Purk, a senior heading for the University of Toledo to study biomedical engineering, is part of a 15-person team of nine seniors and six underclassmen readying for the 2014 Science Olympiad March 8 at Case Western University in Lorain.
The Olympiad tests the highest level of academic achievement in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and aspires to pit those top brains against one another in a national competition celebrating 30 years in 2014.
“It’s quite the challenge … to say the least,” Purk said of the work. “We unfortunately are placed in a very tough division.”
Students commit to their projects and grab any spare time they can to study or perfect projects. The Olympiad consists of 23 challenges including topics such as metric mastery, rotor egg drop, wheeled vehicles, anatomy as well as glaciers and rock science. And a student from each school must be represented in all categories.
An open slot means “If you don’t enter, you get last place automatically in the event,” said the team coach, science teacher Lauretta Swint.
The top four in each regional competition goes to state. Those challenges whittle 7,000 teams in 50 states down to the final rounds this May in Florida. In their five years of competition, Oak Harbor students proudly note they have attained a seventh place.
“This last week is our crunch time,” said Swint.
The results “are all based on how much each of us works. It takes a lot of personal time,” said underclassman David Birchall. He balances the Olympiad prep time between sports practice, homework and other school commitments. The group hasn’t been able to meet together in weeks because of schedule conflicts. This final week brings them together in three sessions after school Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
“Some of those other teams have 12 or 13 teachers and coaches,” Purk said. “We have Mrs. Swint … and that’s enough,” he added with a smile and nod toward his mentor.
Nicole Weis is making strides on her path toward a medical career by studying for the anatomy competition. She will take a lengthy test that’ll measure how much she has absorbed in the books, videos and Internet searches she has studied over the past few months.
“You can’t be off a millimeter on something. You have to watch every step,” Birchall said of the intricacy of some of the project specifications. “You can be walking in and someone bumps you and all your work is ruined.
Still, the teens believe in themselves and the camaraderie that has grown over the years.
“To me, that’s what the Science Olympiad is all about – the students’ work,” Swint said.