For the first time in over 10 years, the K-12 Science Olympiad competition returned to the University of California, Riverside. The tournament, dubbed “Highlander Invitational,” was part of the national track-meet style competition where middle and high school students competed in 36 events surrounding all areas of science, including biology, chemistry, geology, astronomy, engineering, and more. While UC Riverside has hosted the Inland Empire regional tournament before, the institution has never organized an invitational tournament, which is more of a practice tournament for students to gain experience before their respective regional qualifiers. Highlander Invitational was created by Change in Scientific Importance for Youth (Delta SIFY), one of the five projects within the UCR Science Ambassadors organization. 

In just 90 days, project leaders Sonali Bhakta, Jennalyn Resendez, and Michael Tin organized the competition. As this is the inaugural year for the tournament, the 2023 Highlander Invitational was done in the form of an online (“satellite”) competition, where students competed from their schools. Over 900 students and 50 teams from all over the country signed up to participate. On Saturday, January 28, 2023, more than 1,000 tests were taken by students on an online platform as schools challenged each other to see who would place high in the rankings and what team would ultimately win the first ever Highlander Invitational.

The feedback to the tournament was exceedingly positive from teachers across the country. Joanne M. Trombley, a teacher at J.R. Fugett Middle School in Pennsylvania, stated that her students really enjoyed the invitational experience, and gained a lot of experience from being able to work together in their respective events. She remarked that the online tournament helped to “bridge the gap between the haves and have nots in society,” adding that her school district has a significant low income student population that do not have the funding for in-person competition travel. Kevin Postma, an AP Environmental Science teacher at Manistee High School in Michigan, reported that his students had a great time during the invitational, and appreciates all the effort that the Science Ambassadors put into making this event a possibility. Feedback was also overwhelmingly positive from Science Ambassadors who had helped run the event. 

Ambassador Linlin Liu wrote challenging tests for five events, stating that this was “the perfect opportunity for (her) to experience (the Science Olympiad) in college.” She added that she was very impressed by the capability of the students to answer topics that were not necessarily covered in traditional coursework. Another ambassador, Nathaniel Co, had participated in Science Olympiad before and wanted to get the experience of being on the other side of the events. He added that “writing the Codebusters exam was a lot of fun…and (being able to) provide feedback/questions through the chat while proctoring was incredibly rewarding.” 

Overall, the Highlander Invitational was a great experience for middle and high school students across the nation. The event demonstrated the outreach capabilities of the Science Ambassadors Program, as well as the extensive work the Ambassadors put into turning this event from an idea into a reality within 3 months. Delta SIFY hopes to expand on the success of this invitational, with plans to bring the Highlander Invitational on-campus next year, and to also bring back the Inland Empire Regional tournament to UC Riverside. The group also plans to continue with their other efforts in STEM outreach, which includes Science Olympiad coaching, math tutoring sessions, and co-curriculum based lesson plans. Additionally, Delta SIFY is also planning an “Ag-Ops field trip” for the Spring Quarter, where students from surrounding schools will have the opportunity to come and explore UC Riverside. You can find the Awards Ceremony for Highlander Invitational at the following link:



About UC Riverside Science Ambassadors

The Science Ambassador Program is a great opportunity for undergraduate students to represent UC Riverside’s College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences Undergraduate Programs to internal and external constituents. The Science Ambassadors are the face of the college and assist the school as a host during official functions, make presentations, and act as a student liaison with the various communities that CNAS serves both on and off-campus, with a particular emphasis on recruiting events and activities. Ambassadors are knowledgeable about their majors and UCR, and are easily able to communicate their passion for both to prospective students and their families. Ambassadors are highly involved in activities outside of the classroom, including undergraduate research, student life, athletics, etc. Each Ambassador has a distinct voice and a unique story which all contribute to a rich diverse representation for the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UC Riverside. CNAS Science Ambassadors adhere to the highest standards of student conduct and academic integrity.

About Delta SIFY

Change in Scientific Importance for Youth, also known as “Delta SIFY,” is a project within the UCR CNAS Science Ambassadors Program intended to demonstrate the importance of STEM in daily lives, nurture interest and confidence for students interested in science, and ultimately provide an opportunity for students to explore the process of getting into college and working in the STEM fields. We accomplish this by partnering with the 7th and 8th grade students of the Riverside STEM Academy.

About Science Olympiad

Science Olympiad competitions are like academic track meets, consisting of a series of 23 team events in each division (Division B is middle school; Division C is high school). Each year, a portion of the events are rotated to reflect the ever-changing nature of genetics, earth science, chemistry, anatomy, physics, geology, mechanical engineering and technology. By combining events from all disciplines, Science Olympiad encourages a wide cross-section of students to get involved. Emphasis is placed on active, hands-on group participation. Through the Science Olympiad, students, teachers, parents, principals and business leaders bond together and work toward a shared goal.