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The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

Pathfinder

The Official Student News Site of Parkway West High

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STEM mayhem

The seven best STEM competitions for high schoolers, according to high schoolers
On+March+2%2C+West+High%E2%80%99s+Robotics+team+competed+in+the+state+competition%2C+in+which+the+B+team+placed+ninth+and+the+A+team+qualified+for+the+world+championship.+Senior+Lillian+Dwyer+is+a+notebooker+and+strategist+in+robotics.+%E2%80%9CRobotics+is+one+of+the+many+STEM+opportunities+offered+at+West+High+that+is+an+enjoyable+experience+for+anyone+looking+to+go+into+engineering+or+science.+I+highly+recommend+joining+it%2C+because+outside+of+school%2C+it+is+fun+to+talk+and+hang+out+with+people+who+are+also+excited+about+STEM+and+willing+to+dedicate+time+and+energy+to+work+on+engineering+projects%2C%E2%80%9D+Dwyer+said.+%28Photos+are+courtesy+of+Mikalah+Owens%29
Audrey Ghosh
On March 2, West High’s Robotics team competed in the state competition, in which the B team placed ninth and the A team qualified for the world championship. Senior Lillian Dwyer is a notebooker and strategist in robotics. “Robotics is one of the many STEM opportunities offered at West High that is an enjoyable experience for anyone looking to go into engineering or science. I highly recommend joining it, because outside of school, it is fun to talk and hang out with people who are also excited about STEM and willing to dedicate time and energy to work on engineering projects,” Dwyer said. (Photos are courtesy of Mikalah Owens)

STEM is a highly popular field, garnering interest from more than 75% of Gen Z students in the United States. Despite this large majority, only about a quarter are exposed to careers in STEM and real-world applications used in the field, with even fewer having the opportunity in low-income and non-white or non-Asian demographics. Due to this lack of exposure, Americans are significantly lagging behind in STEM education, with only a paucity of improvement in student performance in science and math in over a decade.  

The solution to these discrepancies is feasible, though, with enough motivation for students to explore STEM in their own unique ways: experimenting with chemicals for a science fair, building a robot for an engineering contest or even grappling with combinatorics and number theory whilst studying for a math competition. Participating in STEM Competitions as a high school student can help fuel a passion for the field while encouraging students to thrive in a high-pressure environment and learn valuable skills such as time management, teamwork and allocating resources. Apart from also being a way to stand out in college applications, STEM contests allow students to learn more from participating in projects they actively choose and work towards rather than passively sitting in a STEM class.

However, West High’s flourishing STEM department with opportunities in the form of after-school clubs, contests and fairs is available to students. In this article, we explore seven extracurricular opportunities that students interested in STEM can participate in, on their own time.

American Mathematics Competition (AMC 10/12).

Available by registering through Mu Alpha Theta, the math honors society — or by contacting Math Contest Program leader and math teacher Patrick Mooney — this 25-question multiple choice exam is available as the AMC 10 for students under 17.5 years, and the AMC 12, available for students under the age of 19.5. Students who are in the top 2.5% of participants in the AMC 10 and top 5% in the AMC 12 are invited to participate in the American Invitation Math Exam

“AMC is a great way to test your math abilities outside the school curriculum, and qualifying for AIME is a great accomplishment. However, if you aim to qualify for AIME, it does take a lot of time to prepare, [as] most qualifiers that have taken other math contests before,” AIME-qualifier and freshman Kyler Wang said. “[The contests] test your problem-solving skills, it’s always satisfying when you figure out a problem.”

Top participants from the AIME are invited to compete in the USA Math Olympiad or USA Junior Math Olympiad, if they took the AMC 12 or AMC 10, respectively. From there, the highest scorers will be selected to attend the Mathematical Olympiad Program. Six students will be selected from MOP to represent the U.S. in the International Math Olympiad and top female-identifying students from MOP will also have the opportunity to represent the U.S. in the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad

National Science Bowl

This nationwide science competition tests students’ knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology, math and Earth sciences by setting two teams of four students head-to-head, where each team “buzzes” to answer questions, in a quiz bowl-style tournament.

“I strongly recommend Science Bowl to any student, it’s been my favorite contest; Nationals was one of the most rewarding experiences ever,” National Science Bowl qualifier, Science Olympiad Club founder and freshman Alisha Yin said. “The fact that it’s trivial makes it a game of knowledge-based luck, but it’s obtainable: if you work hard enough, you’ll get results.”

Students require a sponsor, either a teacher or parent, to register for a science bowl contest. The only regional event in Missouri takes place at the University of Missouri-Kansas City

Congressional App Challenge 

The Congressional App Challenge is hosted by the U.S. House of Representatives and distinguishes students in computer science. This coding contest requires students to create an app using any programming language of their choice on any platform. They may choose to work in teams of up to four and prior contest winners have created an app that addresses social issues observed in their community. Winners compete in their district; Parkway West is MO02, under Representative Ann Wagner.

I developed a neural network model that classified skin discoloration images into cancerous [melanoma] and non-cancerous by training it over a large set of skin images provided by the International Skin Imaging Collaboration,” said 2022 Congressional App Winner and junior Sasha Tripathi. “It was a rewarding experience because it has direct application in terms of early identification and [is] life-saving for Missouri farmers, who are exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods. I recommend participating in this competition, and [to] think of solutions to big challenges.”

USA Computing Olympiad 

The USA Computing Olympiad is a coding contest consisting of three contests and a U.S. Open division in which students can choose to participate in Advanced, Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze with Advanced having the hardest coding questions and the Bronze having questions more suited for novices. Students can register for the three-question, four-hour online test independently through the USACO website. 

“USACO is similar to AMC in the sense that you qualify for more tests. USACO has different levels with varying difficulty in problems,” Wang, who participated in USACO, said. “Although I have not qualified for any of the tests, it is a fun challenge to test my coding skills and my endurance to persevere through four hours of continuous coding.”

At the end of all four contests, the best-performing students will be chosen to participate in an intensive training camp, from which four students will be selected to represent the USA at the International Olympiad in Informatics and the top-scoring female-identifying students will also have the opportunity to represent the U.S. in the European Girls Olympiad in Informatics.

Regeneron Science Fair 

Students can participate in the honors division of the Academy of Science St. Louis Regional Science Fair if their school registers first. Students interested should contact Parkway’s STEM Coordinator Jennifer Proffitt for West High registration codes and other information required on the portal. After registering, students can submit their E-fairs in an online form, and if selected, participate in the in-Person Honors Division Finalists Competition. The top two finalists will be eligible to compete in the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair.

“The fair attracts very talented students, has extraordinary mentors and judges and through the competition, I have met many area high school students who have interests similar to mine,” Tripathi, who has qualified for ISEF, said. 

In addition to having a chance to qualify for an international distinction, finalists also receive special scholarships and distinctions from the Academy of Science St. Louis sponsors. All finalists receive a $500 Missouri MOST scholarship and the top three winners receive up to $1500. Sophomore Nikki Paquette conducted ecology research at Washington University under Professor John Grady and submitted her project on how metabolic rates of different animals relate to their fitness, which is the scientific word for their environment. 

“I entered the fair because I wanted to compile my research in a ‘tangible’ project. Using a lot of spatial biodiversity data and R, a programming language used in data science, I was able to create slides and a presentation to publish my research,” Paquette said. “Overall, the fair was such a fun experience and a good opportunity. I was able to present my hard work to scientific experts and also connect with other high school students who were also finalists. It was nice to be able to talk to them, not only about science and research but also about school and life in general.” 

Robotics Contest

Students can participate in a variety of robotics-based competitions, namely the VEX Robotics Competition series, through the Robotics Club. Registration for the contests is handled through the club’s recruitment process at the beginning of the school year where after an initial interest meeting, students can apply to be part of the team. 

“It’s been a fun experience, while it can get [stressful] and run on tight timelines, it’s a team-based activity so those kinds of situations are less stressful than they might otherwise be. On the whole, it’s a fun group of people to be around, which to me, is a strong reason to be part of the activity in and of itself,” Vex World Championship qualifier and sophomore Anish Jindal said. “There’s enough overlap between different roles that one gets to work closely on different facets.”

Lillian Dwyer, who is also one of the team members on the Robotics team joined after being recruited her junior year by the robotics coach.

“One of the reasons why I, and many others, have joined is because of the real-world applications robotics brings to the STEM field that can benefit the world,” Dwyer said. “There are a lot of aspects of robotics that can be applied to other fields, and there really is anything for anyone: coding, building and manufacturing, strategizing or even notebooking and talking to judges, so I highly recommend it, even if you aren’t directly planning on going into robotics.”

INTEGIRLS Math Contest

Through Mu Alpha Theta’s sponsors, students may sign up, for free, for the nonprofit’s INTEGIRLS St. Louis’ Fall and Spring Contests which are intended for female-identifying students. However, if a sponsor is unavailable, students may also register independently. The St. Louis chapter, which covers the lower midwest, is hosting their 2024 Spring Contest on April 6 with both online and in-person options, with the competition being hosted over Zoom and at Rockbridge High School for both options respectively. 

“The contest was a fun experience and it was nice that contestants could participate in both an individual contest and a team contest,” Paquette said. She participated in the Fall 2023 INTEGIRLS St. Louis math contest with her team of three other West High students. “I really appreciated that the contest provided a space where STEM could be seen as ‘female-dominated.’ Women in STEM are often overlooked and their efforts can sometimes be diminished so it was nice to see a nonprofit taking the time to focus on the females present in math.”

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About the Contributor
Audrey Ghosh, Opinions Editor
Pronouns: she/her Grade: 12 Years on staff: 4 What is your favorite piece of literature? "Anna Karenina." Who is your hero? My grandma. If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? Pizza (with different toppings).
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  • M

    Mikalah OwensMar 26, 2024 at 7:21 am

    This is great! Loved reading this 🙂

    Reply
  • W

    Will GonsiorMar 25, 2024 at 2:13 pm

    West High goes hard. Great article Audrey!

    Reply
  • A

    Alisha YinMar 25, 2024 at 12:08 pm

    Great article Audrey!
    I love stem !!!!

    Reply