May 31, 2019
Wakulla High School Odyssey of the Mind Team A competed in the World Finals of the world’s largest creative problem-solving competition on May 22-25 at Michigan State University.
This year, the 40th annual World Finals hosted 825 teams of over 6,000 students from 25 countries and 47 states.
Wakulla came in 12th out of the 45 teams that competed in their category (Technical) and age division (Grades 9 – 12). They left with “a cultural experience they will never forget,” said Coach Christopher Stearns.
The winning 2019 WHS team consisted of senior Jake Greene; juniors Abigail Gray, Ally Harden, Zoie Hill, Jay Jacob, and Ashiera Preston; and freshman Abbi Hatfield. Coaches were WHS Engineering Academy teacher Christopher Stearns and WHS Reading Coach Angie Gentry.
Two years ago, the first Odyssey team in Wakulla’s ten years of participation made it to World Finals. Five WHS students on the 2019 team were also on that winning 2017 team: Jake Greene, Zoie Hill, Ally Harden, Jay Jacob, and Abigail Gray.
“We actually had participants from all over the world remember Wakulla from 2017. It was gratifying to hear ‘Aren’t you from Wakulla? Their team is awesome!’ from strangers. Our students really put Wakulla County Schools on the world map,” stated Stearns.
WHS competed against teams including those from Hong Kong, Singapore, Slovakia, China, Mexico, Poland, South Korea and 21 different U.S. states.
Each team was paired with another team that they would not be competing against for the duration of the World Finals. Wakulla requested and got a team from Hong Kong. The “buddy teams” lived in the same dorm, ate together, and cheered each other on at their respective competitions.
“You would think there would be a language barrier, but most of the students from Hong Kong spoke English, and they taught our students some of their language as well,” added Stearns.
Senior Jake Greene even missed his WHS graduation on May 24, choosing to participate in a graduation ceremony held every year at World Finals for seniors who are missing the ceremonies at their own schools.
“Our goal was to cheer the loudest of any team when Jake got his diploma. I think we met that goal!” said Stearns.
Odyssey of the Mind is a non-profit organization founded in 1978 by Industrial Design professor Dr. Sam Micklus to encourage students to “think outside the box” in finding creative solutions to problems that include technical, mechanical, communication, structural, and performance categories.
The Odyssey problems incorporate STEAM skills (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math). NASA sponsors one of the five problems each year and hosts an extensive exhibit at the World Finals.
WHS Team A picked the “Technical” problem from the choice of five categories. They had worked on their Long-Term Problem since August, 2018.
Students designed, built, and operated an original robot. In addition, they incorporated the robot into a team-created performance.
All teams also had a Spontaneous Problem to solve, one they had never seen before. It challenged their ability to work as a team by listening to all possible solutions and executing the best one with input from everyone. All this had a time limit.
“We earned points for working well as a team, plus having a lot of creativity in our solutions,” said recent graduate Jake Greene. “Several people even commented that we looked like we were having fun, joking with each other even when under pressure.”
“We so appreciate all the support from WHS Principal Mike Barwick and Superintendent Bobby Pearce. Our eyes were opened as to how much support we had compared to some of the teams who had little or no support from their school districts,” said Coach Stearns.
“Our parents have been fantastic supporters too. We had one parent who drove all the way to Michigan to bring our props so we didn’t have to ship them.
“The other parents paid their own airfare, waiting until we made our team reservations so that they could be on the same flights,” said Stearns. “It was fun on our last flight home to have the flight attendant come over the intercom and give a shout out to our Wakulla team. All the passengers applauded for us!
“Also, Odyssey of the Mind encourages community involvement. We are trying to make Odyssey sustainable by fostering partnerships with engineering firms, construction companies, math and science-based professions, as well as with the creative arts people we have in Wakulla.”
For some of the WHS team, this was their first time flying, or definitely travelling that far. Besides their exposure to different cultures, they also got to “live the college life” for the week, staying in MSU dorms, eating at the MSU cafeteria, and touring the campus.
“I give our students credit for managing their schedules so well all year. It was amazing to see them juggle Band, various sports, Advanced Placement coursework and more.
“These are our future leaders who already are all about finding solutions and having the follow through to execute them,” added Coach Gentry.
“The WHS Odyssey Team A did a great job representing Wakulla at the World Finals. Once again, our students from a small rural district can compete against anyone from anywhere. Odyssey of the Mind World competition let our students demonstrate that they have the tools to compete on a global level. We are proud of the WHS Odyssey Team and their coaches for advancing so far,” said Superintendent Bobby Pearce.