By Rick Smeriglio for SCN –
Combine 19 teams of bright, motivated high-school students with a large, volunteer staff of research-scientists, university types, oceanographers and professional resource managers and then step back to observe the chemical reaction. You will get a weekend of intense competition and mentoring known as the Tsunami Bowl, which also includes a dab of fun. The Consortium for Ocean Leadership, UAF, and Emma R. Dieter just finished sponsoring the nineteenth annual Tsunami Bowl in Seward along with many other corporate, individual, and institutional donors. Seward High School housed the event and the school fielded a team in the competition as it has most years since 2000, when it finished fourth against seven teams.
This year’s Seward team called itself the Cnidarian Necessities and benefited from the dedicated coaching of science teacher Shoshonnah Brasher. Seward High School senior Joevahnta Usugan-Weddington captained the team as he did during his sophomore year. Although the team seemed disappointed with its overall fifteenth place finish among 19 teams, it had accomplishments in specific areas that tell a better story.
Consider the underwater, remotely-operated-vehicle competition. The six-member team had to quickly assemble an ROV from plastic pipe, three motors, and some odd bits. In the pool, the team used the ROV to deploy an oil boom, hover in mid-water over a target, cruise through an underwater obstacle course of hula-hoops and carry a chain to a position. The Cnidarian Necessities placed second, but the results did not count toward the team’s overall score.
In its on-stage presentation of its research paper, Seward’s home team placed a solid seventh, for good reason. Even in competition with much larger schools, the judges saw a well-rehearsed group of nicely dressed young people who exhibited poise even when faced with probing questions from the audience. Points from this aspect of the competition counted toward overall placement.
The toughest competition came in quiz bowl format where opposing teams heard spoken questions from a moderator. The team that first knew the answer hit a buzzer and got points for correct answers, but lost points for wrong guesses. The Cnidarian Necessities turned in performances in these face-offs with other teams that probably explained their overall finish. Downcast looks on their individual faces spoke eloquently of how the team probably felt.
A group problem-solving competition that rewards teamwork rather than speed tells a tale of hope for the Cnidarian Necessities. In a direct, one-on-one competition packed into a tight, stuffy room, Seward’s team tied returning champion and this year’s winner (Mat-Su Career and Technical High School, 425 students).
About the Mat-Su Career and Technical High School’s impressive performance, Seward’s Coach Brasher explained, “I think they were just significantly better prepared.”
About her team, a warm and empathetic Brasher said, “I think they did fantastic. I think they showed a lot of confidence. I think the hard work they put into it was very clear. I’m extremely proud of them. I feel that I have a very exceptional group of students.” “It was so close,” said Brasher about the neck and neck contests that ended well for the other teams.
The Alaska Tsunami Bowl serves as a regional prelude to the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. This year’s winner (Mat-Su Technical) will go on to the nationals in North Carolina and face stiffer competition. Sponsors of the competition seek to identify and encourage students wishing to pursue higher education in ocean sciences. The Tsunami Bowl also encourages personal interaction between younger students and various researchers, graduate students, professors, and professionals in the ocean science community. That aspect of the weekend seemed much in evidence, especially from the Mat-Su team. The Alaska University system and the Consortium for Ocean Leadership offer scholarships to qualifying students. Margo Connolly-Masson, an admissions counselor with UAS, had three scholarship awards available for participants in the Tsunami Bowl who also enrolled at UAS. She had a particular Seward student in mind.
Team captain and MVP, Joevahnta Usugan-Weddington has applied to UAS, Northern Arizona University, and Purdue University. Purdue has accepted him and he plans to study aerospace or aeronautical engineering. His particular part in his team’s research topic included the mapping and tracking of marine debris.
SCN asked Usugan-Weddington about the connection between space and the ocean and if his participation in the Tsunami Bowl helped him with his career goals.
Usugan-Weddington said, “I would say yes, it has helped. The ocean and space are related in terms of science. I like exploration. I think the ocean and space are very similar in that there is a lot to be explored.”
Dr. Michael A. Castellini, formerly Dean of UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, now sits as Associate Dean of UAF Graduate School. He has volunteered as a judge and science advisor at many Tsunami Bowls over the years.
When asked about links between student participation in Tsunami Bowls and recruitment to UAF, Castellini said, “Typically, the students who come through here [Tsunami Bowl] that end up connecting with UAF, connect with the fisheries program, even in some cases with the interior fisheries program and also through oceanography or marine biology. It depends on what their long-term careers are … These are all very high-performing students. There is always a handful interested in some sort of marine science.”
Mat-Su Career and Technical High School puts strong emphasis on academics and career training. It does not have sports or music programs. The school just completed a $17 million expansion of its campus in Wasilla according to team coach for the last seven years Tim Lundt. Lundt said that his school not only fields teams in the Tsunami Bowl, but also in the Science Bowl and the Science Olympiad. He said that his teams went to the nationals last year and hoped to set an Alaskan record by going to the nationals in all three competitions again this year.
Lundt said, “It’s the kids more than me … They’re in there twice a week, four hours a week, studying … They know the advantages of Ocean Bowl and how it helps get them into colleges … We have kids wanting to go into marine sciences who never thought of it before. That’s a real positive aspect of it.”