USC Upstate professor coaches local middle school team to statewide first place

April 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Inquiring minds wanted to know, and the Odyssey of the Mind team from Spartanburg Charter School (SCS) had the answers as they won first place in the recent South Carolina Odyssey of the Mind competition held in Charleston, S.C.

Coached by Dr. Trevor Rubenzer, associate professor of political science at the University of South Carolina Upstate, the six-person team of Hannah Lee Hakim, Sarah Hunt, Annalogan McClendon, Jacob Mossbrook, Brayden White and Grace Rubenzer competed in Division II for middle school aged children solving the problem “It’s How You Look At It.”

“The students had to develop a skit where at one point a normal behavior becomes odd, while at another point an odd behavior becomes normal,” said Rubenzer. “They also had to complete a spontaneous problem where they were given one minute to think (of a solution) and four minutes to respond.”

Odyssey of the Mind is an international educational program that provides creative problem-solving opportunities for students from kindergarten through college in a positive atmosphere that fosters quality sportsmanship at all levels of competition. Team members apply their creativity to solve problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting their own interpretation of literary classics.

“Students learn a lot in Odyssey of the Mind, regardless of their academic level,” noted Rubenzer. “The most important thing they learn is how to solve problems creatively, how to work as a team under significant time constraints, and how to think on their feet and respond quickly and productively to adversity.”

Choosing a problem to solve in the state competition was one of the first steps for the SCS team.

“The students spent a lot of time this year thinking about what it means to be ‘odd’ and what it means to be ‘normal’ in a pop-culture dominated society,” said Rubenzer. “This led them to think about some pretty complicated concepts in new ways.”

Taking their responsibility seriously, the team members committed to a rigorous practice schedule that began in December with one day a week for two hours, then in January with two days a week for two hours, and by the week before the March 16 competition to daily for four and one half hours.

With a first-place win at the state level, the team is now preparing and practicing for the 34th Odyssey of the Mind 2013 World Finals international competition May 22-25 in Michigan.

“When we competed at state, we were judged the same way we will be at the international competition,” added Rubenzer. “Our job now is to address areas where our score was lower and beef them up in an attempt to compete against the more than 60 teams we will face in May.”