By Craig Marx, Editor
Some of the brightest young minds in the world will converge at Michigan State University from May 24th to the 27th as the campus hosts the World Finals of the Odyssey of the Mind program. Among the international contingent of ambitious problem solvers, a team of young men from Antigo will be competing in this prestigious world championship.
Jesse Poltrock, Luke Hitz, Joe Fucarino, Jacob Radtke, Noah Royce, and Matt Lee qualified for the World Finals at the Odyssey of the Mind Wisconsin State Tournament in March, setting themselves up for the ultimate problem-solving showdown against fellow crafty youths in East Lansing later next month.
Odyssey of the Mind (often abbreviated as OM) is a program that tests its members with both long-term problems – challenges that the participants work through over the course of weeks of preparation to solve – and spontaneous ones, in which students are given situations they have not seen before and must use their ingenuity to craft, design, or identify an item in a logically presentable way.
Presentation is almost as much a part of the process as the solving itself. The program gives its members the chance to explain their designs or thought process along the way, for example: having to spontaneously identify a roll of duct tape as more than just a circle but rather as a potential sound effect if one was to unravel it quickly.
The Antigo program is led by Ben Olsen, a physics instructor at Antigo High School that will oversee the six-man World Finals team at MSU. Olsen is also joined by two additional volunteer coaches this year: Dave Kuhr, a tech education teacher, and Kelly Leveque, an Antigo School District Counselor. While Antigo previously had an OM program in the past, the three teams fielded by these local coaches represent the first programs the Antigo area has seen in quite some time.
“This is a great opportunity for these guys,” Olsen said about the team’s start-up success. “Odyssey of the Mind has an element of showmanship in as much as problem solving. The program helps push [these men] in a different direction than they are used to and also gives them a chance to see what might be available to them after high school.”
The Odyssey of the Mind program can trace its roots back to the 1970s, when a Dr. Samuel Micklus of what is now Rowan University in New Jersey presented his industrial design students with unorthodox problems and mechanical puzzles to solve, such as designing and building vehicles without wheels and mechanical pie throwers.
The OM program as we know it today first began as the “Olympics of the Mind” competition in 1978, with the first international event held in 1980. After expansion beyond just the East Coast and Canada, the “Olympic” program was eventually renamed “Odyssey of the Mind.”
Problem solving and spontaneous design and testing are still at the core of the OM program nearly 40 years later. With Odyssey of the Mind bringing together problem-solving competitors from more than 25 countries worldwide – including China, India, and Germany – the top-tier of the program now includes the likes of Antigo, Wisconsin.
“We founded the program here in Antigo after looking for activities to help occupy time for students that were caught up with their other work and were looking for something to help develop their creativity,” Olsen added. “We wanted to make it more of an after-school program and less of just an in-class activity. That’s when we decided on going with Odyssey of the Mind.”
Antigo’s world championship-bound team is in the midst of raising funds for its well-earned trip to East Lansing, a feat that proves slightly challenging in and of itself considering the timeframe. With the Wisconsin state tournament challenge ending in mid-March, the team has roughly two months to raise $6,000.
While Antigo is sending one team to the world championships, in fact it could have had two groups of talented young problem solvers on their way to Michigan State had scheduling worked out in the local chapter’s favor. Two teams of the Antigo OM program qualified at the state competition for the world-level challenge, however a team comprised entirely of seniors would be missing out on the once-in-a-lifetime experience of high school graduation – the same weekend in late May – in order to embark on the Odyssean trek to the Spartan campus.
Since time is of the issue, the team is seeking fundraiser assistance from local Antigo businesses, of which they have met with local success from some industrial and mechanical industries – the same institutions that seek and employ technological and engineering problem solvers every year.
The opportunity at the world championship extends beyond the competition itself as a way for the team to branch out and see possible opportunities in the fields that such a challenging program opens up to young thinkers around the world. Colleges and universities, high-tech companies, and even NASA will be present at the East Lansing venue during the championships, providing prospective students and career-minded young people with a chance to see their future potential in the world that OM might help to mold.
The funds raised will help go to sponsor the team at the MSU site, including food and lodging through the program.
“I’d like to thank the local businesses that are on board, and I’d also like to thank the school board for all of their help in making this happen,” Olsen said.