The insider's guide to the Jerome Fisher Program at the University of Pennsylvania

Making SOUP: Running the First Science Olympiad Tournament at Penn

The Science Olympiad is a competition held at the regional, state, and national level where over 7,000 teams of 15 students compete in 23 events that span a wide range of STEM topics including biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, and engineering. M&T Kai Wang helped bring the first Science Olympiad to Penn this year.

 Like a good number of other M&Ts, Science Olympiad had been a significant part of my life throughout high school. During my time at Penn, I’ve met many students who participated in high school, but didn’t find groups dedicated to giving back to the Science Olympiad community.

Team members hard at work during the competition

Last August, two of my former Science Olympiad teammates and I came together, along with an incoming freshman, to form Science Olympiad at the University of Pennsylvania (which we affectionately called SOUP). Our main goal was to help local Philadelphia students develop a passion for STEM. In addition to our tournament, we would mentor local middle school teams to prepare them for their own competitions.

Since this was the first year Penn has hosted a Science Olympiad, we had to find space and supplies. The meant acquiring funds. As finance director, I had the unique responsibility to “make it rain.” We began fundraising by reaching out to different Penn departments and programs, including the M&T program, and assembled an information packet for sponsors – effectively a business plan with a pitch.

M&T Director Gad Allon addressing attendees

M&T Administrative Director January (Wuerth) and Director Gad (Allon) were extremely helpful in providing both financial support and connections within Penn. In addition to the M&T program, we received funding from the physics department, chemistry department, Penn Admissions, Door of Clubs, and First Round Capital, which finally let us cover our roughly $11,000 in costs.

After months of planning and thousands of dollars, we finally held the tournament on February 18th. As early as 6 AM, we saw teams stream in from their buses with balsa wood helicopters, robotic arms, and miniature electric cars, among other less exotic devices and materials.

With more than 600 competitors and 130 staff across 40-50 rooms during nine different time blocks, the possibilities for errors were endless- especially given our inexperience. While slip-ups happened, everyone survived. The amazing aspect of organizing a sizable event is that the frantic atmosphere in the headquarters room went unnoticed by the vast majority of attendees. Most had a memorable and motivating experience. Being data-focused and analytical students, we of course later verified these thoughts with post-mortem surveys.

Proud participants during the awards ceremony

The most memorable moment of the whole event was during the awards ceremony. When we first started the club, we were choosing between UPSO (University of Pennsylvania Science Olympiad) and SOUP as the abbreviation for our club name. In Marketing 101, I learned brand names should pass the four “easy” tests: say, spell, read, remember.  While I hadn’t taken the class before choosing the name, I intuitively pushed for SOUP instead of UPSO. When I saw one of the teams accepting their trophy with soup-eating gestures on stage during the photos, I couldn’t help but smile. Seems like we made the right choice.

Next year, we plan on hosting another tournament and expanding our team mentoring activities. Armed with experience, new data, and new connections, we strive to give back to the teams, coaches, and organizations that have helped bring us so far.

 Kai Wang is a member of the Class of 2018 studying Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics and concentrating in Finance. This summer, he will be interning with the manufacturing finance team at Tesla . Kai appreciates his fellow M&Ts, knowing he can always reach out to anyone for advice or help.

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