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Building Community Through Competition: The 29th Annual Colorado High School Science Bowl

March 20, 2019

Photo shows the winning team holding a banner.

The Fort Collins High School team holds the championship banner with U.S. Department of Energy, Golden Field Office Director Derek Passarelli (right) and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Chief Financial Officer Owen Barwell after winning the 2019 Colorado High School Science Bowl on Saturday, March 16, at Dakota Ridge High School in Littleton, Colorado. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

Minutes before the final round was to begin, the competitors could not hide their anticipation. Students on each team could be seen biting their nails, tapping their pencils, fidgeting in their seats, and quietly whispering what you could imagine to be encouraging sentiments to their teammates or last-minute mathematic equations to memorize. The tension was palpable but sitting at the table of the Fort Collins High School Lambkins was an unusual good luck charm: a small stuffed animal lamb. 

When the round started, the Lambkins were quick to their buzzer, answering question after question. The early nerves were no match for the hours of practice and the determined spirit of the high school students accompanied by their toy lamb, leading Fort Collins High School to its third consecutive victory at the 29th Colorado High School Science Bowl.

Since its inception, the Colorado High School Science Bowl–coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)–has given students the opportunity to engage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) enrichment beyond the classroom. Each year, the winner of the Colorado competition goes on to represent the state at the National Science Bowl sponsored by DOE's Office of Science in Washington, D.C. Before competing for their shot at Nationals, the student teams work tirelessly to expand their knowledge of mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, space, and earth science.

“The Colorado High School Science Bowl showcases the talents and hard work of the best and brightest high school students throughout the state” said Derek Passarelli, Director of DOE’s Golden Field Office, which co-sponsors the competition. “The students are the future who will one day become the next generation of engineers and scientists who will lead the way.”

Students Put Their Knowledge to the Test

This year’s 36 teams from 21 high schools proved to be tough competitors working vigorously through the morning's round-robin competition until only 16 teams were left to compete in the afternoon double-elimination rounds.

The schools that excelled during the morning competitions and advanced to the afternoon double-elimination contests were:

  • Cherry Creek High School
  • Cheyenne Mountain High School
  • Loveland High School (second place)
  • Fairview High School (third place)
  • Fort Collins High School (first place)
  • Fossil Ridge High School
  • Niwot High School
  • Peak to Peak Charter School
  • Poudre High School
  • Ralston Valley Senior High School
  • Rock Canyon High School
  • Rocky Mountain High School

The teams that did not advance to the second half of the day had an opportunity to participate in interactive workshops led by NREL researchers. The workshops allowed students to practice engineering skills, learn about real-life modeling and analysis tools, and gain understanding of solar concentrators.

“Sometimes you don’t make it as far as you want to, but it is an amazing learning opportunity to meet professionals in the industry and peers that are interested in the same stuff as you. It is a great opportunity to maximize your learning outside of class,” said Peak to Peak Charter School team member Ayush Shekhar. In his first year competing in the Science Bowl, Shekhar was impressed by the level of dedication each team brought to the competition and believes next year his team will come back even stronger. “Without a doubt, STEM definitely has a bright future.”

It Takes a Village

Photo shows two men who served as judges.

U.S. Department of Energy’s Golden Field Office Director Derek Passarelli (right) and NREL Associate Director Johney Green work as judges during the 2019 Colorado High School Science Bowl. Photo by Werner Slocum, NREL

Responsible for making the Colorado Science Bowl possible is a dedicated team of over 100 volunteers from NREL, DOE’s Golden Field Office, and other passionate community members who give up their Saturday to ensure the event is meaningful and engaging for each student.

“This competition really gives kids the opportunity to put their knowledge and skill to use, all while having an incredible amount of fun,” said Rebecca Hanes, a modeling and analysis engineer at NREL’s Strategic Energy Analysis Center who’s volunteered previously at the Middle School and High School Colorado Science Bowl.

From interns to leadership team members, all levels of NREL’s employee population were represented as volunteers.  Among them was Johney Green, Associate Laboratory Director for Mechanical and Thermal Engineering Sciences at NREL, who served as a science judge. “NREL is committed to helping foster STEM career paths for students of all ages through a variety of opportunities like the High School Science Bowl,” said Green. “I enjoyed volunteering as a judge at the event and I was extremely impressed by the scientific knowledge of the students.” Later in the day, Owen Barwell, NREL Chief Financial Officer, continued to express the lab’s dedication to STEM education as he joined Passarelli in presenting trophies to the winners. 

“The volunteers, teammates, coaches, family and friends, Department of Energy and NREL all comprise a community who are invested in the future of each student who participates in the Science Bowl,” said NREL Community Relations Lead Jill Rhodes. “We hope the competition inspires students to chart their own career paths in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, that will one day help tackle the critical scientific challenges of our time.”

The community of coaches, teachers, and family members who support and help the teams prepare to compete in the Science Bowl are integral to the event’s success.

One familiar parent is Suren Chen, whose son, Larry Chen, has been competing for the past three years as part of the Fort Collins team. “The Science Bowl has been a life-changing event for my son and is the most significant event that’s influenced him during high school,” said Chen. “I think the Department of Energy Science Bowl event is fabulous, especially with its long history of helping generations of young kids. I think, as a parent, we really appreciate this opportunity given to the younger generations.”

NREL and DOE are committed to providing STEM educational opportunities for all ages throughout the school year and beyond.

Learn more about NREL’s upcoming STEM opportunity for middle school students, the Model Car Competition, and see all of NREL’s Educational Opportunities.