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Olympic-style Science

The University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) was a silver sponsor for the 2014 Science Olympiad, an annual national competition with science-themed challenges for middle school and high school students.

The mission of Science Olympiad is “increasing student interest in science, creating a technologically literate workforce and providing recognition for outstanding achievement by both students and teachers,” states the organization’s national tournament brochure.

The idea for UTIG to sponsor the national tournament came from Dustin Schroeder, who earned his Ph.D. from the university in May and is now a radar geophysicist and systems engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.Schroeder has a long history with the Science Olympiad. He began competing as an eighth-grader in the astronomy event and continued for the next four years through high school, twice winning first place.

After high school, Schroeder remained involved with the competition as an event coordinator and, after relocating to Texas, as coach of a Science Olympiad high school team in the Austin area.

UTIG’s involvement with the Science Olympiad reached a new level in 2014. Schroeder and UTIG director Terry Quinn helped establish UTIG as a sponsor of the competition’s earth and space science events and sponsored scholarship awards.

“Terry was really involved in getting the resources to not only give the scholarships but to pay for some of the travel and development of the event,” Schroeder said.The 2014 Science Olympiad National Tournament was held in May at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Schroeder represented UTIG at the tournament, presenting a $1,000 scholarship to the Division B Earth and Space Science winners, who were eighth-graders.

For Schroeder, the national tournament and his role as a sponsor representative carried a strong personal significance.“It’s interesting how I’m ending up bringing it back through this arc to space science,” Schroeder said. “This same competition in astronomy was what originally got me interested in school at all and going to college at all.”

“To go through this arc now and then through the sponsorship with UTIG to actually be running this competition nationally that had this impact on me, it’s pretty full circle for me,” he added.

For more about the Science Olympiad, visit www.soinc.org or visit the official UTIG Science Olympiad page.