Fridaychimp wrote: ↑
July 6th, 2020, 7:47 pm
1. How do you recruit diverse members for your team?
These are great questions! I'm answering as best as I can, as not everything below is based on research, so please do point out any corrections to what I wrote. knightmoves has already made insightful points as well, and anybody else who has something to add is welcome.
Recruit from all classes, not just AP or honors.
Sometimes, students with the most potential in science aren't taking AP courses. Maybe they didn't know about AP, or teachers discouraged them due to their race, or they were plain unlucky. (As my previous post writes, discrimination from teachers or school counselors contributes to the racial gap between AP and non-AP classes.) But for whatever reason or another, they've been excluded but could be an asset to your team. I've met students who weren't in the top math classes, but made excellent additions to Science Olympiad nevertheless. And of course, ID events are great for general interest, regardless of prior math or science classes.
Emphasize growth mindsets.
Recruiting from non-AP classes has its obstacles. Unfortunately, talented students who aren't in AP sometimes internalize their position as "proof" that they can't succeed in science (Lewis & Diamond, 2005). As a result, non-AP students may fear that Science Olympiad is for a much tougher caliber of student, regardless of whether they truly can succeed. To prevent this, emphasize that everybody learns, and encourage students that it's okay if they don't have much science background already. It helps to make it personal: try to convince them that Science Olympiad will bring better grades, with special emphasis that it doesn't matter where they are now
. Or, tell anecdotes: "this used to be my worse event, and now it's my best. Who knows, maybe you'll be where I am in a month from now!" By making science relatable, underrepresented students may feel more at home when they don’t feel a crushing obligation to be brilliant at the very beginning (Lin-Siegler et al., 2016
Offer financial aid.
It helps to have materials and money in store so that students don't need to pay for their own gravity vehicle. Moreover, family finances can change, and parents who had a job in August may not have the same job anymore when regionals and states roll around. A rainy day fund helps students to stay involved when bad times hit. From most to least effective, you can raise money through membership fees (while waiving costs for students who need it), through sponsorships from local companies or nonprofits, through parents or community members, or through grants. (Grants are the least effective method, because of the absurd amount of paperwork for money you most likely won't get.) In team emails, remind prospective members often that aid exists, so that they know they can access it if needed.
Include all interested students.
Not everybody can win, but everybody can have fun. Students who realize that SciOly means time with friends will return in the future. If 30 students express interest, 30 students should have the opportunity to compete. If 100 students express interest, 100 students should have the opportunity to compete. At the beginning of the season, science workshops and demonstration days grabs attention. When forming teams, you can rotate students out from invitational to invitational, so that most students get to participate at least once. In the late season when not everybody makes regionals (or states or nationals), team-bonding exercises, like volunteering as a team or having a Zoom party with everybody
who participated, will make students come back wanting more for the next year.
Connect with your school's diversity committee.
If your high school doesn't have a diversity committee, ask a teacher you trust to help start one. (Alternatively, you can team up with a club, like a People of Color Alliance, to start a committee, while being sure to get teachers involved too.) When school faculty are involved, you can leverage district resources unavailable to you as an individual. For example, a diversity committee can formally ask the school to email Science Olympiad flyers to every family on reduced price lunch (which is much harder to do if you're alone). Of course, it's possible that resentful administrators push back against the committee. But no matter how much you get pushed back, it's much harder to withstand as an individual than as a group. Even if your committee fails to diversify your SciOly team, the committee might wind up helping in some other way, such as reducing other forms of racism at your school. In high school, I served as a teacher assistant for a program that lets students serve high-need classrooms. Perhaps your diversity committee could start such a program as well, to strengthen interracial friendships between racially segregated classrooms.
You should beware of tokenism
—the mere presence of a committee won't always reduce racism—but a healthy diversity committee should include both students and staff.
On the test exchange, I can see some teams write invitational-level tests for tryouts. I see tryout tests demanding students to recall jargon so obfuscated that real scientists would never utter such meaningless mumbo-jumbo. I know of a team where you had to pass a test simply to show up, and team captains would teach special lessons only to people who passed—which raises the question, if you have to pass to get the lessons, but the lessons teach you how to pass, then how do you pass without lessons? All these situations are avoidable. Even in schools that are 100% white, not everybody will join Science Olympiad, because some people believe only a select few can get good at science
. Add in racism to the mix, and the perceptions of scientific elitism gets worse. Even microaggressions like "SciOly is the Asian gathering!"
exacerbate the perception that science isn't right for everybody.
People in general don't like science when they don't understand it. It's plain elitist to throw half-relevant vocabulary on tests, then hope for the best (e.g. using hypokalemia
, a term used for potassium in blood, to test knowledge of potassium in the context of lakes and rivers
). Ultimately, jargon is inevitable, and so are difficult tests. But using jargon and difficulty solely to exclude? It doesn't have to be like that. Students can still make the team even if their tryout test scored poorly; once they know what to do, they'll do a lot better. I've known students who were near last in their school's tryouts, but after given a second chance, scored stunning 1st place finishes at enormous university invitationals.
Fridaychimp wrote: ↑
July 6th, 2020, 7:47 pm
As depressing as it sounds, I don't remember meeting or even seeing a single Black person at Nats 2018 or 2019 (although I'm sure there were some there), and I'm reasonably sure no Black-presenting people placed in the top 6 at either tournament. That same pattern applies to MIT 2018 and 2020, the only other national tournaments I've had the chance to observe.
A black student from Carmel took 2nd in Astronomy at SONT 2019, and another black student from Solon has had similar success in experimental design. Raymond Park Middle School has a racially diverse team of students, and also made the top 30 at nationals in their first year of attendance. But overall, I agree; the most competitive Science Olympiad teams don't reflect America's great diversity. However, things are changing. For your third question, Science Olympiad organizations across states are spearheading Urban Initiative programs, which give resources and scholarships to inner-city schools. Some tournaments offer fee waivers for teams that have never attended an invitational before. I try to make sure my invitational tests are useful for post-tournament learning by adding explanations (from surveys I've done, some teams won't go review Wikipedia after each tournament, because they don't realize they can). And of course, all of us can diversify tournaments, by helping to reduce racism at our own institutions, our schools, our universities, and wherever we go in life.