The Research Triangle Park

Partner Profile: Q and A with NC Science Olympiad

By Nov 12, 2014

This post is part of the series Partner Profiles, where US2020 RTP shares the story of how our nonprofit, corporate, school, and university partners are contributing to a STEM education community of practice. Kim Gervase is the Executive Director of NC Science Olympiad, a member of US2020’s Guiding Coalition, and a full time superhero. She took some time out of her packed schedule to answer my questions about Science Olympiad’s competitive mentorship model, mentoring different age groups, and the culture of STEM in North Carolina.

You work with groups of student’s K-12. How do you see mentoring change across those age levels?

At the elementary level, mentoring is about getting kids excited about STEM, letting them explore topics that interest them and helping them to see that STEM is not scary, hard, or beyond them. As those students get older, mentors can help them dig in and start to think about careers and degrees in any of the science fields. They need to be able to look past the stereotype of a white lab coat and pocket protector. Love to cook? Did you know that a degree in Food Science can allow you to create new ways to get that food from the field to people all over the world? Is fashion your passion? How are those fabrics designed and created? Get a degree in Fashion & Textile Management and work in this world every day. Love to build things? There are a hundred different degrees in architecture and engineering to choose from.

What kinds of hands-on STEM projects do you see your students get excited about?

Every year when we release our new list of events there are groans when certain topics rotate out because kids all have their individual favorites. That’s one of the things I love about Olympiad, there is something for everyone. Our engineering events, like Pasta Towers, Gliders, and the ever-popular Bottle Rockets are always crowd favorites. Mission Possible, an event where teams build a Rube-Goldberg device to complete a simple task in the most complicated way possible, is one where students really work together as a team and are constantly tweaking their designs and trying for 1 more point right up to the end.

How do you see mentorship working in a competitive environment like Science Olympiad?

A competitive environment is the perfect place for a mentor. Just like athletes need coaches to help them train their bodies to become the best they can be, Science Olympiad competitors need that same coaching to exercise and stretch their minds. The rules for each event allow for hands-on, project-based learning in every area. Students know that when they walk in to our events, they are not just regurgitating information, they have to apply what they know to answer questions, analyze data or solve the crime.

What advice would you give a STEM professional that has never mentored before?

Remember what excited you as a child and intrigued you as a young adult about STEM. Mentoring is often a chance to rekindle the passion in those subjects that you learned about for fun before you decided to make it a career.

What do you think the culture of STEM education is like in North Carolina?

STEM education is certainly a buzzword now and I only see its importance in the classroom growing. People are realizing that science doesn’t have to be ‘one more thing’ that they need to cover in a school day. Science can be the framework for teaching math, literacy, technology, and engineering. I am so excited to see the ways the industry and education are working together to ignite a passion in our students.

You’ve been on the Guiding Coalition of US2020 for over a year. What makes you excited about partnering with US2020?

I love the people from various organizations that I have been able to connect with because of US2020. We too often work in our own silos trying so hard to get kids excited about STEM, help our teachers, and promote our state’s industries. We can be so much more than the sum of our parts by coming to the table and working together.

If you want to find about more about mentoring with NC Science Olympiad, check out their listings on our mentor matching platform, or read our interview with Meaghan McGrath, who taught Science Olympiad students environmental science at Dillard Drive Middle School.

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