STEM and Science Olympiad energizes Eagle River club

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 10:34
  • Next year will mark the 25th anniversary of the Alaska Science Olympiad, which features 23 competitions ranging from builds to books.Eagle River’s team has finished in the top three four times since 2010. (Courtesy Photo)

Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the Alaska Science Olympiad, a statewide initiative that emphasizes Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, also known as STEM.

Science Olympiad likens its annual competitions to “academic track meets,” and Eagle River fields a team.

Eric Dearborn, coach of Eagle River High School’s Science Olympiad Club, has been teaching for 21 years, both at Gruening Middle School and ERHS. In a telephone interview with the Star, Dearborn said the club has 30 members, split into two competition teams.

Eagle River has finished in the top three four times since 2010 and in 2007 and 2008 was Alaska’s No. 1 team.

The 2017 regional meet will be Jan. 21 and the state meet will be April 1 at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Regardless of whether the team wins a medal or not, Dearborn said he advises students, “Whether you’re on the A team or the B team, you are a member of a Statewide, Award-Winning Science Olympiad team, and that is a great shining gold star on your transcript.”

Science Olympiad has 23 events, ranging from building towers, helicopters, and windmills to more research-intensive tasks, like astronomy, geology, and epidemiology. Dearborn said that boys in the club gravitate to builds, and girls to books.

“One of the things I’m really proud of,” Dearborn said, “is we are two-thirds book-type events and one-third build events.”

Today’s club member, tomorrow’s problem solver

In the Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ STEM Jobs Report, economist Dennis Vilorio defines STEM as a career path where “workers use their knowledge of science, technology, engineering, or math to try to understand how the world works and to solve problems.”

STEM studies concentrate on computers and mathematics, architecture and engineering, and life, physical, and social sciences.

Vilorio wrote, “STEM fields are closely related and build off each other. For example, math provides the foundation for physics — and physics, in turn, for engineering.”

“The students who get involved early, who participate in Science Olympiad for multiple years, and who get that taste of competition are highly likely to enter the STEM fields,” Dearborn said. “They desire to go into the sciences.”

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics confirms the opportunities that have grown for STEM students in its “Occupational Outlook Handbook.”

In state, petroleum engineering is offered as a bachelor’s and master’s degree out of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and is eligible for the Alaska Performance Scholarship, a program created in 2010 that aims to incentivize exceptional performance within a rigorous high school curriculum with financial support for Alaskans who choose to pursue math, science, social studies, or languages at UA.

The State of Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports in its 2014-2024 Occupational Forecast that STEM jobs are predicted to outpace most others when compared as hourly wages.

For instance, in the STEM-friendly computers and mathematics wage categories, the Alaska Mean Wage is $39.60, but Computer Network Architects would average $55.69 an hour, or 40 percent more.

STEM fields like architecture and engineering have wages averaging $50.47, with petroleum engineers averaging $70.51 (or even higher at $75.97 in Anchorage), according to Alaska’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

A.E. Weisgerber is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New Jersey Monthly. She has interviewed Henry Kissinger, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Al Franken and many more. Follow her on Twitter @aeweisgerber.

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