Oregon State University

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

Salmon Bowl 2013: Behind the Scenes

February 6, 2013

On February 23rd, 16 teams of high-school students and about 100 volunteers will converge on the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences for the annual Salmon Bowl. This one-day regional competition follows a rapid-fire question-and-answer format on biology, chemistry, geology, physics, history, and economics of the world's oceans, as well as navigation, geography, and related current events. The winning team advances to the two-day final national competition, held in a different city each year.

Patterned on the National Science Bowl, the National Ocean Sciences Bowl was inaugurated in 1998 to provide a forum for students who excel in math and science to receive national recognition for their diligence and talent while broadening their awareness and understanding of the oceans.

Second-year Regional Coordinator Michelle Fournet (Miche) describes the event on the OSU campus as, "highly coordinated marine-science chaos of 250 people." Miche and Saskia Madlener, both Master's students in Marine Resource Management, work as representatives of the National Ocean Science Bowl and provide logistical support and scientific input. They review questions; communicate with local governments; recruit and coordinate with teams, volunteers, and speakers; solicit donations/involvement from community businesses; do media outreach; arrange facilities, meals, and trophies; and much more.

Miche and Saskia keep the process on track with the help of their faculty advisor, Fred Prahl, who acts as liaison between the coordinators and faculty. The two coordinators keep abreast of changes in national rule changes and maintain a regional handbook that summarizes past experience and describes logistics as well as flexible responses to events such as bad weather or volunteers/teams dropping out at the last minute.

If you come to a Salmon Bowl competition, you will be struck by the number of volunteers that keep the event running smoothly. Volunteers–many of them repeats–include game officials, support staff, student scientists, and presenters. Volunteers are drawn from College faculty and staff, the OSU graduate and undergraduate community, and communities of Newport and Corvallis.

One OSU volunteer, Gene Williamson, has been involved with National Ocean Sciences Bowl since its inception. After teaching oceanography for 25 years at Beaverton middle schools he was hired by the then-titled Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education for nine weeks to edit 150 existing questions and write another 1900 questions. As he describes it, "Writing questions is not as easy as it might sound, and my background as a teacher gave me a leg up in that department. I attended the first national finals in DC, of course knew the correct answers to all the questions, and then I was hooked."

Since that first year, Gene has served as a paid question writer, a paid editor/miner of past questions, and a volunteer at both the state and national level. His favorite job is Moderator. "That is the 'Alex Trebek' of NOSB/Salmon Bowl. I have also served as Science Judge, Rules Judge, and Scorekeeper over the ensuing 15 years, both in the Salmon Bowl and in the national finals."

The Salmon Bowl and national competition recognizes students' academic achievement. As Gene notes, "There is one Oregon school where I suspect that the Salmon Bowl team receives more recognition than the football team!"

Mishe notes other benefits for students, "The Salmon Bowl is an educational experience, but it is also a social one. It's a great place for students to celebrate a love of science, and to find camaraderie with like-minded peers. Students who get to chat with an oceanography professor or see grad students in action can gain a clearer picture of what their own futures may look like if they pursue a career in marine science."

The College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences is interested in encouraging the best and brightest students in Earth sciences. High-school students are influenced and impressed by meeting college students, to see what they are studying and what research they are conducting. In 2012, five OSU undergraduates who had participated in the Salmon Bowl as high-school students returned to volunteer.

If you are interested in the competition for 2014–being on a team, leading a team, or volunteering–send email to salmonbowl.volunteer@gmail.com.

The process of starting a new team is not difficult: you need four students and a coach. Any adult can coach a team, and students can come from anywhere in the Pacific Northwest region and be affiliated with a school, an organization, or a club. Students need to be high-school age but do not all need to be from the same high school. Teams from schools that have integrated marine science into their curriculum do especially well. Marine science material can be used as a platform for a broad range of disciplines: geology, biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics.

For the first time, in 2013 questions will be built around the topic, "The Great Lakes: A Window into Freshwater Science" and the final competition will be held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The theme last year was "Sea of Change: Development and Evolution" and final competition was held in Baltimore, Maryland.

Regional Coordinators and faculty advisor for the 2013 Salmon Bowl

Regional Coordinators and faculty advisor for the 2013 Salmon Bowl. From left: Michelle Fournet, advisor Fred Prahl, and Saskia Madlener. Michelle and Saskia are Master's students in Marine Resource Management at the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. Fred Prahl is Professor of Ocean Ecology and Biogeochemistry.

Regional competitions map

Regional competitions take place across the U.S. at 25 locations. Regions generally name their competition for a regional characteristic, such as Hurricane Bowl in Mississippi, Surf Bowl in California, Manatee Bowl in Florida, or Blue Crab Bowl in Virginia. While most states that host regional competitions are on the coast, other sites such as the Trout Bowl in Colorado, Lake Sturgeon Bowl in Wisconsin, and Great Lakes Bowl in Michigan are landlocked. Interactive competition map

Room judges

Each two-team event in the round-robin competition requires a moderator, science judge, rules judge, timer, and runner. In multiple-choice rounds, students sit at tables, racing each other to hit their buzzer first for the chance to make an answer.


In written-answer rounds, students confer and submit a single answer sheet for judging.

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