Rebecca discusses the lasting influence of joining Science Olympiad in middle school on her relationships, as well as the way that it has shaped her goals and life to this day.
I just joined it initially because I wanted something to do, an extracurricular, and when I was in middle school we only had flag football or Science Olympiad.
So, for me it was a pretty obvious choice, and I got put just at random in an event called “Disease Detectives” which is just very, very basic epidemiology. So the first time I did a practice exam it was on asthma prevalence in a school where the school was right next to a factory and you had to figure out what was causing high asthma prevalence. It sort of felt like it was solving puzzle, even though we were literally taking an exam. At the end, I just felt so cool—I just thought it was so cool that I could assemble all this evidence and present at the end: this is what happened, this is how it happened.
I think it's something that has carried me even now to studying public health because that’s the reason that I chose to study public health is that I wanted to learn more about epidemiology, and I wanted to become a disease detective—as dorky as that may sound.
One of my coaches, Senila, who just every single day would just push me, and at first I think she was someone who really scared me because she was so dedicated to her own academics. But, you know, I think her strictness had a love behind it too and so she really just—she inspired me to see what was possible in my future, and she showed me how to do it so I really have eternal gratitude for her for being such a positive influence in my life.
A real beauty of Olympiad is that it really does inspire kids to go out into the world and do science.
When it became my turn to coach later, I think my excitement and passion for it helped inspire kids to also feel passionate for it. I remember the first year I got, the coaches, got bowling shirts instead of normal t-shirts, and I remember the first time I had my name embroidered on the sleeve it just felt so, so cool.
One of the, I think proudest moments of my life was, I worked with this one girl in the club almost every and we became really good friends honestly, and on the day of our actual competition her parents came up to me—and I had never met them before—and they asked me if I was Rebecca. And I said, yes, and they said, our daughter always talks about you. You’ve made her care so much about science and she really, really likes you.
It's so important I think to teach people how to learn outside of the context of school. I think Science Olympiad was really, for me, it was that and for many of peers it was too. Really, it taught me to, you know, even if you’re not one hundred percent enthusiastic about something to try it because you honestly never know where it's going to take you. Because I didn’t really want to do Science Olympiad at the start and now it has truly shaped my whole young adult life.