The University of Texas-Pan American hosted its first National Science Bowl® regional competition Saturday, Feb. 25 at the Education Building. Fourteen Valley high schools competed, but it was a team of four boys from San Benito that took home the victory.
This group of tight-knit friends - Joe Manzano, Jesus Abrego, Nestor Rodriguez Jr., and Carlos Garza - said they came to have fun, and the only promise they made to their teacher and coach was that they wouldn't finish dead last.
The San Benito team actually lost in the quarter finals against Edinburg-Economedes, but made it as a wildcard and had a second chance to face them in the semifinals. They defeated the Edinburg team and advanced to the final round, where they faced Rio Grande City High School. With a final score of 58-24, San Benito captured the title and will now advance to the national competition, April 27-May 1.
"They're just naturally bright kids. They've taken the AP (Advanced Placement) classes - they know this stuff," said Tom Kuhn, the team's coach, whom they affectionately call "Kuhn Dog."
He has taught chemistry at San Benito High School for nine years, and he believes the competition is a good idea because it can raise the level of science in the Valley.
Garza said that it was their classes that prepared them for the competition and not their practice sessions, which usually turned into a time of telling inside jokes.
According to the team, each member tackled a different subject, catering to his own strengths. Abrego said he tackled chemistry, Manzano did math, Garza focused on biology, and Rodriguez was responsible for astronomy, while also being labeled "the looks" of the team.
"We just formed a lot of tactics and strategies and just made our way to the top," Abrego said. "We made an awesome comeback."
Besides winning a trip to Washington, D.C., each team member won a laptop, which they will be receiving during a dinner with UTPA president Dr. Blandina Cárdenas. The second and third place finishers, Rio Grande City High School and Brownsville Hanna High School will also attend the dinner. The team from Rio Grande City won MP3 players, while the Hanna team won TI-83 calculators.
In a speech during the awards ceremony, Dr. Edwin LeMaster, dean of the College of Science and Engineering at UTPA, thanked all those who participated, including faculty members who served as science judges: Dr. Horacio Vasquez, mechanical engineering; Dr. So-Young Han, physics; Dr. Jeremy Qualls, physics; and Dr. Narayan Bhat, chemistry.
LeMaster encouraged the students to prepare for college, realizing the talent and motivation of the students who participated.
"You're going to be the future engineers, scientists, chemists, biologists, physicists, and mathematicians - so get used to being the oddball, because scientists and engineers are little bit odd," he told students with a laugh.
More information on the National Science Bowl® may be found online at http://www.scied.science.doe.gov/nsb/default.htm. A regional bowl for middle school students will be held at UTPA May 6. For information regarding regional Science Bowl events, contact UTPA Division of External Affairs at 956/381-3361.