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USA Biology Olympiad 2004

by Suraiya Farukhi
Center for Excellence in Education
Vienna, Virginia

A Moment of Triumph
Though bleary-eyed, adrenaline was pumping through the 20 national finalists of the USA Biology Olympiad (USABO) as they came to Virginia from all corners of the United States in June. Their purpose: to attend the Second Annual National Finalists Training Session for the USABO, sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education.

Representing 11 states and 19 high schools, the 20 national finalists, competitively selected from an original pool of 5,000 students, settled in at George Mason University for 10 days to prepare for the 2004 USABO. The goal of the national finalists was to secure a position on the coveted four-person team that would represent the United States at the International Biology Olympiad this summer in Australia.

The Olympiad represents the purest form of mental prowess. Whereas achievement in sports is still highly lauded by American teens, these biology Olympians show another kind of strength -- playing and scoring big in the gridiron of the mind. Interested in scientific existentialism, discovering the details of enzymatic catalysis, and
researching the effects of curcumin on prostate cancer metastasis, these students exhibited sophisticated intellectual curiosity and refreshingly original approaches. Brilliant as they are, these young scholars are very well-rounded. Their varied interests range from Scottish Highland dancing and volunteer work, to participation in youth orchestras and sports.

The announcement of the 2004 USA National Team at the culmination of the USABO was a moment of triumph. This year, the U.S. team is represented by Kay Aull, from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia; Zenan Chang, from Santa Monica High School, Santa Monica, California; Clinton Hansen, from Oneida High School, Oneida, New York; and Brad Hargreaves, from Caddo Parrish Magnet High School, Shreveport, Louisiana.

The timing for the International Biology Olympiad (IBO) could not have been better. Preceding by a few weeks the 2004 Olympic Games set to commence on August 9, the IBO will host 44 nations representing 176 students (four from each nation) in Brisbane, Australia. They will participate in an intellectual competition and experience the fascination, excitement, and tension of such a challenge. As one of the members of 2003 U.S. team, Michael Xiang, commented, "The International Biology Olympiad [is] amazing. It is an incredible, wonderful, unforgettable experience."

The McLean, Virginia-based Center for Excellence in Education (CEE) established the USABO in 2002 to encourage excellence and recognize the talents of the nation's brightest students. The USABO focuses on stimulating young scholars' intellectual curiosity and nurturing their ability to investigate and seek approaches that are novel and innovative. It is a way to demonstrate to the United States the significance of innovative teaching and problem solving and the impact of teaching methodologies and learning strategies on students. Additionally, it has paved the way for participation in the International Biology Olympiad, which for 14 years had no U.S. representation. But, above all, the USABO promotes best practices in science education, demanding the best in practical and theoretical knowledge.

In keeping with that mission, the CEE has commissioned a study on the USABO. The research is titled "Biology Talent Research Study," and one of its primary goals is to "identify the factors that enhance or impede talent development in the sciences."

About the Center for Excellence in Education
The Center for Excellence in Education was co-founded by the late Admiral H.G. Rickover and Joann P. DiGennaro in 1983 to nurture young scholars for careers of excellence and leadership in science and technology. Luminaries such as President Jimmy Carter, U.S. Senators William H. Frist and Joseph I. Lieberman, and former Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci, III, serve on the Center's Board of Trustees. The Center sponsors the Research Science Institute (RSI) and the USA Biology Olympiad for high school students. For more information about the Center and its programs, visit its Web site.

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