In a classroom in Kupfrian Hall, teams of middle schoolers hunkered together to test their anatomy and physiology knowledge. Nearby on the Lower Green, a throng of onlookers watched as bottle rockets, designed by tween students, were launched into the air. And in the Campus Center Gallery, high schoolers propelled their homebuilt electric vehicles toward a target several yards away.

It was all part of the 2017 New Jersey Regional Science Olympiad (NJSO), hosted by NJIT on an unusually warm January day. The event drew more than 700 students interested in STEM from middle schools and high schools — and even one elementary school — from throughout the state. The students competed in more than 20 hands-on science competitions that took place in various locations across the NJIT campus, after they prepared for many months with coaching from their science teachers. All the competitions, called “events,” involved teamwork and problem-solving and encouraged STEM learning.

“The Science Olympiad brings together hundreds of students interested in STEM for a fun day of team competitions,” said Suzanne Berliner Heyman, director for program operations and outreach at the Center for Pre-College Programs (CPCP), which coordinates the NJSO. “It also exposes the students to NJIT, a top-ranked national university, and its prominent professors, which we hope further spurs their interest in STEM.”

NJIT has hosted the regional gathering since 2007. NJIT professors and student volunteers, along with representatives from UPS, PSE&G and Northrop Grumman Corp., supervised some of this year’s events.

An electric vehicle travels toward its target.

The Meet Goes On

Back in Kufprian Hall, high schoolers generated wind power with their individually designed blade assemblies, while fellow students in Cullimore Hall used their investigative skills to unravel a mystery surrounding invasive species. In the basement of the Campus Center, a robotic arm whirred as the two students who built it gently guided the device in picking up and moving a pile of pennies to a bull’s-eye about 18 inches away.

Just a few hours later, all the teams gathered in the Campus Center Ballroom for an awards ceremony that ended the day. The packed room was electric with energy and anticipation as the students and coaches, along with some parents, waited to learn the results of the marathon of STEM activity at NJIT.

Jacqueline Cusack, CPCP executive director, remarked to the crowd, “It was exciting for me to make rounds today and see you make science happen.”

Lots of high-fiving, backslapping and clapping ensued when the winners were announced. After the top scorers in each event in both the middle and high school divisions received medals, trophies were awarded to the top six teams for best overall scores. These teams will go on to compete in the statewide Science Olympiad and include Montville High School and Thomas Edison EnergySmart Charter Middle School (first place), Bergen County Academies Team #1 and Montgomery Upper Middle School (second place), and Livingston High School Team #2 and Alpine Middle School (third place).

“This type of event is incredibly important for the advancement of STEM, because it sparks an interest in our students early on, encourages collaboration and provides students with a memorable experience,” offered Steven Romero ’12 (M.S. in information technology administration and security), who coached the team from HoLa Hoboken Dual Language Charter School, where he is the STEM teacher. “The competition at NJIT was fierce. While we may have only placed in one event this year, we gained valuable insight through observing other groups on how to approach some of the building events that we struggled with. My students loved the experience and, being the resilient bunch that they are, are already looking forward to next year’s Olympiad and are going back to the drawing board, studying more and reworking designs for devices.”

Two middle school girls, potentially the next generation of STEM professionals, summed up their day at NJIT when they enthusiastically declared, “It’s so interesting!”