Melody Wen ’20 and 14 of her fellow Science Olympiad teammates from North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics spent the majority of their 10-hour bus ride from Durham to Ithaca, NY, with their heads down, reviewing prompts in preparation for their participation in the national Science Olympiad competition at Cornell University.
Melody, who was scheduled to participate in three separate challenges, was particularly focused on her specialty event, a cryptography challenge called Codebusters. A quick solution in the timed portion, where “seconds matter a lot,” Melody says, might provide the margin between first and second place overall in the challenge.
Melody and her teammates had performed well in qualifying challenges, winning first place in a regional event and first place overall at the state level. Awaiting them at the nationals in Ithaca were 59 other high school teams from across the United States who had earned the right to compete in the finals.
Traveling to the nationals of the Science Olympiad is a goal that thousands of students across the country aim for each year. For many of those invited to participate, it is among the most significant recognitions of their achievement.
“When we finally found out we were going to be advancing to nationals, the entire team was elated!” Melody says. “It was an absolutely amazing experience to work towards and be able to compete at the national level tournament. I know that the experience we had at nationals is something that we will always remember.”
But it takes more than hard work and dedication to get to nationals. The financial requirements can be significant, too. From entrance fees to supplies to travel, the costs of participating in academic competitions can add up.
Fortunately for Melody and her teammates, funding from the Ives Academic and Club Competition and Conferences Endowment
administered by the NCSSM Foundation removed the financial hurdle inherent in traveling to the out-of-state competition. It is one of many such instances where the Ives Endowment and similar funding streams have ensured that financial considerations do not hinder those whose work has earned them an opportunity to demonstrate their talents for audiences beyond NCSSM.
“Conferences and competitions are valuable learning experiences for our students,” says Katie O’Connor, NCSSM’s Vice Chancellor for Academic Programs. “Through them, they learn how to communicate their work effectively to those outside their usual circle of classmates and teachers, learn how to work collaboratively both with their classmates and with new colleagues, and, of course, they also learn high-level content and material for a real-world context.”
The endowment has been funded by charitable gifts from Brad Ives ’82 and his wife Debra, their children, and by parents, siblings, and friends.
“Our family established the Ives Endowment at NCSSM to ensure that students can embrace academic opportunities far beyond the borders of campus regardless of their own ability to afford such an experience,” Ives said.
NCSSM’s team did well at the Science Olympiad finals, placing in the top half overall in combined team scores. And all that extra preparation on the bus ride paid off especially well for Melody. She and two others — Alexander Tong ’20 and Alexander Zhuang ’19 — claimed first place as a group in their Codebusters event. “Once we finished the timed question, we were feeling pretty good and cautiously optimistic,” Melody says. “But you still don’t know, you know, because it’s nationals.”
One thing NCSSM’s students can be certain of is the continued support for transformative learning experiences thanks to endowments such as the Ives Endowment.
“Our students are afforded incredible opportunities due to the generosity of our donors,” says Vice Chancellor O’Connor. “We are incredibly grateful for these gifts.”
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