ALBUQUERQUE, N.M., -- Several employees from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Albuquerque District, volunteered part of their weekend to serve as judges and facilitators at the 2014 Central New Mexico Regional Science Olympiad, held at the University of New Mexico's Johnson Center Feb. 1.

The Science Olympiad, a yearly event held in each state across the nation, brings together middle and high school students interested in pursuing opportunities or careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

Technical writer Ariane Pinson said she volunteered "because competition is a great motivator for middle and high school students, and this is a great way for middle and high school students to dig deeper into subjects such as engineering and design." She added, "It is a lot of fun for both the students and me."

Science Olympiad competitions follow the format of classroom lab tests, popular board games, television shows and athletic games. Organizers design each event to take advantage of the wide variety of the students' talents and skills and achieve a balance among the various science disciplines of biology, earth science, chemistry, physics, computers and technology. They also seek a balance among events requiring knowledge of science facts, concepts, processes, skills and science applications.

Ariane Pinson, Michelle Mann, the District's STEM coordinator; archeologist Chris Parrish; physical scientist Jeff Firebaugh; and botanist Dana Price judged and timed the "Elastic-Launched Glider" event. The students built gliders weighing between 3 and 10 grams and with wingspans within a specified length. They had 5 minutes, during which they would launch their gliders and record the glide times. The winner produced the glider with the longest average glide time.

Parrish said he volunteered because he is "passionate about being involved in providing opportunities for young scholars to explore and learn about the world that surrounds them." He also said he believes "that it is extremely important that we invest our time and energy in engaging our future generations in productive ways. To show them that the world is fascinating, and that it is full of opportunities for those that embrace their curiosity and act upon their interests."

Architect Denise Saiz and civil engineer Sonia Murdock judged the "Write it, See it" event. The "Write it, See it" event comprised a two-person team where one group of students saw a model made of foam balls and wood rods. They wrote down detailed instructions on how to recreate the model. Then their teammates in the second group had to build the model following the directions from the first group.

"It was interesting because in our everyday work communication of ideas and technical writing is extremely important," Murdock said. It is also a good developmental tool that will guide the students in the future she said.

Murdock said that while this was her first year participating, she hopes to do it again. The District has participated in the Olympiad for two years.

Last year the District signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the University of New Mexico where each organization pledged to work together to enhance opportunities in STEM education and career paths especially for minorities and women.

Fishery biologist Michael Porter proctored two tests during the Olympiad, although he said that the other District volunteers got to do the fun stuff.

Even though District employee Thomas Plummer, a project manager in the Interagency and International Support Section, didn't judge or facilitate any of the events, he coached the winning team, the Albuquerque Area Home Schoolers, who will advance to the State competition, Feb. 22, 2014.

The New Mexico Science Olympiad began in 1987 and is hosted each year by New Mexico Tech in Socorro, N.M. This academic interscholastic competition consists of over 32 individual and team events for which students prepare during the school year. More than 3,000 students from across New Mexico are involved.