Science showdown

  • Posted: Monday, March 11, 2024, 10:13 am

Devin C. participates in a round of the 2024 Regional High School Science Bowl.
Devin C. participates in a round of the 2024 Regional High School Science Bowl.

Picture the scene—tensions are high, two teams are pitted against each other, the clock is ticking down, and the buzzer sounds. This is not a basketball game during March Madness; it is the high intensity regional middle school and high school science bowls. Pantex sponsored the two competitions in January and February for students to showcase their STEM skills through a question-and-answer competition over biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy, and math topics. This is the thirty-second year Pantex sponsored the competitions.

“Much like an athlete performs in their certain sport, these kids are extremely bright and this is an opportunity for them to demonstrate their excellence in STEM-related activities,” said Pantex Deputy Site Manager Kenny Steward. “It’s important for us as Pantexans representing the government to make investments in the future of technology and engineering. Identifying these students early on helps build a potential pipeline for these students to come work with us.”

Volunteers from Pantex, NNSA Production Office, Amarillo College, and West Texas A&M University dedicate their time to work as moderators, timekeepers, scorekeepers, science judges, and runners. Mugisha A., a Pantex mechanical engineer, has been a science bowl volunteer for the past 3 years.

“I am a big believer in giving all the students an opportunity that says ‘we believe in you’ and it gives a lot of hope for the future when you see these students answering questions that I don’t even know the answers to,” said Mugisha. “When these kids leave today and they look at the Pantex logo, it is not forgotten. This is an opportunity for me to help my community and make a difference in the next generation.”

A science bowl moderator and Amarillo College Professor Jonathan J. has a long history with the competition. He started out as a coach for Ascension Academy middle- and high-school teams and now volunteers for the event.

“I am very passionate as an educator,” said Jonathan. “I really enjoy what Pantex does and I hope that they continue to do this for many years.”

Typically, teams are comprised of five students with one serving as an alternate and one teacher serving as a coach.

“It teaches them how to work together as a team and they use their individual strengths to answer questions,” said Jackie M., Hutchinson Middle School science bowl coach.

At the high school competition this year, something unusual occurred. Devin C., a sophomore at Palo Duro High School competed by himself. The other members of his team were sick or had other obligations, so instead of backing out of the competition, he tackled it on his own.

“My first thought was ‘are you kidding me?’ I found out last night that one team member was not going to be here and then I found out about the others this morning,” said Devin. “It was stressful but I quickly changed my mindset and got focused.”

Even though Devin did not place in the competition, he won a few rounds by himself and came up with different strategies to help himself.

“Usually during bonus questions, you’ll talk with your team, which is something I can’t do, but I make it work and try to answer the multiple-choice questions I know first or let the other team answer first so I can eliminate an answer,” Devin said. “I plan on entering a
STEM career in the medical field so this will help me get my knowledge on par and prepare me for college.”