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Young Oakdale Scientists Prepare For Olympiad
OHS senior Andrew Gilpin, left, and junior Nick McElmurry mark off some balsa wood to cut for a cart that will levitate and move along a magnetic track that theyre making for the upcoming Science Olympiad on March 2 at CSU Stanislaus. - photo by Dawn M. Henley/The Leader


More than 550 students representing area junior and senior high schools will participate in the 27th Annual Stanislaus County Regional Science Olympiad on Saturday, March 2 at California State University, Stanislaus (One University Circle, Turlock).

Oakdale High School and Oakdale Junior High School teams will compete at the day-long event. Competition begins at 8:30 a.m. and will conclude with the High School Awards Ceremony at 2 p.m. and the Junior High Awards Ceremony at 4 p.m. inside the gym. The public is invited to attend. Admission and parking are free.

OHS is sending a full team of 15 students and a partial team of nine student competitors. The full team, known as the Gold team, will compete in all of the events. The Red team will compete in about half of the events. The Gold team members will compete in at least three events each and some will compete in four events. Many of the Red team members will also compete in three events and some will compete in two. OHS coach Cameron Nickerson said that while there are top competitors on the Gold team, several Red team members are also very strong and he expects them to take some gold medals.

“It’s a really strong group this year,” Nickerson said, adding that there are a lot of veteran team members and seniors with a broad base of science knowledge.

Nickerson has coached the Science Olympiad team since his first year at OHS, when he took the team to the 2007 competition. He coaches the team with fellow OHS science teacher Phil Herrick.

The OHS team members have been practicing for months but Nickerson admitted that there are always last-minute preparations for the contest, which he said is “disconcerting.” He said it’s always hard to say how the team will do but conceded that they’ve done last-minute tasks before and have come away with medals.

Because of the strength of the individuals on the team, Nickerson believes the Gold team could be in the top three. The top four teams advance to the state competition. He said that he always expects the OHS team to do well.

“It’s Oakdale. Excellence is expected, right?” he said.

The OHS team first advanced to the Northern California (Nor Cal) Science Olympiad State Finals in 2009 by collecting a third place finish at the county level. The next two years, OHS won first place finishes at the county and took second place at the county last year. Nickerson noted that several veteran team members really want to capture the championship trophy again.

He also reported that parent volunteers, the Academic Boosters, the School Site Council, and the Stanislaus County Education Foundation all play a role in getting the OHS team to the event.

OJHS is sending one full team, 15 students, led by eighth grade science teacher Mike Ruhland who is in his second year as the coach. The OJHS team will compete in all 23 events and most team members are doing three or more events.

Ruhland said that the team’s strengths are in the “Rocks and Minerals” section and also in “Write It, Do It.” He reported that there are also a couple of new events this year.

“I have a lot of returning people,” Ruhland shared. “They learned a lot last year… They’re working hard.”

He added that over half of the OJHS team is comprised of veteran members. The students started studying for the Science Olympiad competition in the fall. To prepare for the event, they meet once a week or more.

He noted that parent volunteers have been very helpful with preparation and that they help at the event as well. The OJHS team will also have team T-shirts for the first time this year.

The Regional Science Olympiad consists of individual and team events that encourage learning in biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, problem solving and technology. Some events require knowledge of scientific facts and concepts, while others rely on science processes, skills or application. According to Barbara Little, Student Events Program Coordinator for the Stanislaus County Office of Education, several events require students to build devices prior to the competition, such as Mousetrap Vehicle and Helicopter. For Mousetrap Vehicle, students design, build and test a vehicle that uses mousetraps as the propulsion energy, and for Helicopters, students design, build and test a propelled aerodynamic device.

“This is a wonderful event for our junior and high school students in the area and I am looking forward to welcoming our future scientists to our beautiful campus,” said Dr. Reza Kamali, the College of Science Dean at CSU Stanislaus.

More than 150 volunteers, including SCOE staff and CSU Stanislaus faculty and students, will judge or assist with the competition.

Along with OHS, the following high schools are participating: Beyer, Central Catholic, Ceres, Connecting Waters, Denair, Downey, Enochs, Gregori, Hart Ransom Charter, Johansen, Modesto Christian, Modesto, and Orestimba.

Along with OJHS, the following junior high/middle schools are participating: Blaker-Kinser, Connecting Waters, Denair, Hart-Ransom, Hart-Ransom Charter, Hickman Charter, La Loma, Our Lady of Fatima, Roberts Ferry, Savage, Somerset, St. Stanislaus, Ustach, and Vanguard Academy.

The top four teams in each division advance to the Nor Cal Science Olympiad State Finals. This year’s state Science Olympiad will be hosted by the Tulare Region and is slated for Saturday, April 13 at Mission Oak High School, Tulare.