Mason Hosts USA Biology Olympiad

Posted: June 12, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Nicholas Zinzer

For the fifth year, George Mason continues the tradition of hosting the USA Biology Olympiad, a national science competition for top high school biology students that began June 1.

The Olympiad includes eight days of theoretical and practical study, followed by two days of qualifying exams.

Originally more than 5,000 students applied to be included on the team. Overall, 544 high school students from public and private schools, as well as home-schooled students, took rigorous semifinal biology exams with the hope of making the USA Biology Olympiad. Eventually, the number was whittled down to 20 national finalists.

Alan Christensen, professor of biology at George Mason, says, “The selection of the national finalists was based on the students’ superior performance on a very demanding semifinal exam.”

Julia Rogers, a junior from Glen Ridge High School in New Jersey, says the “competition is intense but everyone here likes the learning.” Rogers says part of the appeal of the USA Biology Olympiad is interacting with like-minded students.

Kay Aull, a camp counselor for the USA Biology Olympiad, participated in the Olympiad in both her junior and senior years of high school. The rising junior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) says she believes the Olympiad is beneficial for the academic aspects as well as for developing friendships.

“You are socializing with other committed people who are interested in biology in particular, and that peer group may or may not be available at their high school. For a lot of people, it is a very eye-opening experience,” says Aull.

“In seven days of non-stop lecture they try to cover as much as our brains can physically hold,” says Kai Qui, a senior from Irvine, Calif., who is preparing to graduate. Qui estimates the 10 days he will spend at the Olympiad is the equivalent of two months worth of work in a high school biology class. “If we were here any longer than 10 days, it would be impossible,” he says. Qui will be attending MIT in the fall.

“We are, in a sense, a maturing component [preparing] a responsible, scientifically literate student who can make decisions in a college environment,” says Margery Anderson, director of the USA Biology Olympiad.

The USA Biology Olympiad is sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education, a not-for-profit organization that provides cost-free programs to student scholars.

The Olympiad will culminate on June 16. All 20 students will take a final test, and the top four scorers will go on to the International Biology Olympiad July 9 to 16 in Rio Cuarto, Argentina.

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