Science Olympiad Teammates Learn About STEM Study Opportunities at UW-River Falls

Marie Perry, Communications Director for the School District of Belleville

Belleville High School’s Varsity Science Olympiad Team Takes 2nd Place Win in Small School Division First Row: Alexis Radl. Second Row (kneeling, L-R): Tillie Heitz, Alora Spiegel, Grace Lewis, Adalynn Hendrickson, Mallory Thompson, Sariah Croft, Abigail Kaetterhenry, Ari Mehta. Third Row: (L-R): Mrs. Smith, Violet Swanson, Kathryn Shrader, Sofie Veeneman, Martin Veeneman, Ben Johnson, Noah Hatlevig, Aidan Cook, Timothy Fleener, Emily Swanson and Aidan Perry. Photo courtesy of Marie Perry


The importance of preparing students for their next steps after high school is well understood, and in Belleville, students are bridging that gap through some unique opportunities that participating in an academic sport like the Science Olympiad can provide.  Not only do student competitors get to expand their classroom knowledge through related events in academic sports like Science Olympiad, Math Team, and Academic Bowl – away trips to university campuses also offer a unique time to experience college life and learn more about STEM offerings available at various institutions of higher learning.

A recent trip to UW-River Falls offered Belleville High School (BHS) students a special experience.  Spending time on a university campus – even for just a weekend event like the Science Olympiad competition – allows high school seniors time to imagine what it will be like for them to attend college.

“I think it is helpful because it gives me an idea of how my life is going to be next year.  It helped me to realize how close the different buildings will most likely be, where I will end up studying and where I will have all my meals,” reflects Science Olympiad Team Co-Leader and BHS graduating senior Aidan Cook.

At UW-River Falls, the BHS Varsity Science Olympiad Team competed against schools from Minnesota, Wisconsin and South Dakota, earning the team a 2nd place win in the Small School Division with overall (large and small school scores combined) wins by individual teams in the following events:

1st Place – Chemistry Lab (Tim Fleener/Aidan Perry)

2nd Place – Robot Tour (Ari Mehta)

3rd Place – Scrambler (Noah Hatlevig/Ben Johnson)

4th Place – Codebusters (Adalynn Hendrickson/Grace Lewis/Mallory Thompson)

7th Place – Detector Building (Ari Mehta/Aidan Perry)

7th Place – Fermi Questions (Tim Fleener/ Martin Veeneman)

The Varsity Team placed 13th overall out of 62 teams in both the large and small school divisions.  However, it is not just doing well in their competitive events that gives these students a valuable experience as they plan for college and careers; it is being on a university campus for a weekend.

BHS Senior Tim Fleener notes, “My favorite event is Chem Lab, because I enjoy all things chemistry.  I plan on pursuing chemistry after high school and this event gives me a taste of that.  I’m fascinated by the concept of what our universe is made of and how to manipulate it.”

Things like getting to use the university classroom laboratories, taking tests written by the university’s science faculty, and getting to ask faculty pertinent questions in their areas of interest between competitive sessions help students discover why a school like UW-RF might be a place they would like to study after high school.

“The competition was fierce, and our team demonstrated exceptional knowledge, critical thinking skills, and teamwork.  Each participant contributed significantly to our overall success, showcasing their passion for science and commitment to excellence.  While the team was at UW-RF, they also got to hear from the Deans of the college about the various offerings that the school has for their students.  All in all, it was a great time and an educational one as well,” says BHS Principal Michael Lovenberg.

In this manner, an away trip like this provides ample opportunity for students to get a taste of what a school like UW-RF has to offer when it comes to STEM studies beyond high school.  For BHS Seniors Aidan Cook, Tim Fleener, Ben Johnson, Alexis Radl, Kathryn Shrader, Alora Spiegel, Emily Swanson, and Sofie Veeneman, a trip like this helps them focus on what they want their college experience to be like.

“Competing at college campuses helps me to see the different options for next year and I get to experience the campus a little differently than a college tour,” highlights Science Olympiad Team Co-Leader and BHS graduating senior Ben Johnson.

Visiting university campuses is also truly valuable for students in their junior year as well.  Abby Kaetterhenry also feels the value of competing at UW-RF as a Science Olympiad Varsity Team member.

“Going to invites at colleges like UW-RF helps me to tour around the campus and ask current students what major they are in and what their experience on the campus is like.  It helps me gauge what kind of classes they are taking, things they are learning, and what their plan for the future is to help me find what I might want to do when I am older,” adds Kaetterhenry.

However, when it comes to the actual competition, Abby is already seeing the benefits of her academic classes back home.

Kaetterhenry emphasizes, “My AP Environmental Science class with Mr. Bussey has been really helpful in events like Ecology, Forestry, and Horticulture.  I am able to answer so many questions with confidence due to the things that I have learned in that class.  Just at our last invite I got a few questions on soil types and I was able to answer them easily because of the soil lab that we just did in APES!”

In addition to having a meaningful STEM studies college visit wrapped up, the UW-RF second place victory gives the BHS Varsity Science Olympiad Team, under the direction of Mrs. Smith, a solid boost of confidence as they prepare for regional competition.  Belleville will host the Regional Science Olympiad tournament on February 3, 2024, and the team is excited!