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Fostering a love of science

Matt DeYoung • May 18, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Nathan Kelly has come a long way from building airplanes out of balsa wood and rubber bands and answering questions about various ecosystems as a youngster on Grand Haven’s Science Olympiad teams. 

But Kelly credits those early experiences in earth science for propelling him into his current situation — preparing to carry out his Ph.D. work by visiting Argentina and analyzing weather he’ll collect.

“I would say Science Olympiad is why I’m in the field of meteorology,” said Kelly, a 2011 GHHS graduate. “It introduced me to (meteorology) as an academic topic, something I could potentially do as a career. I’ve always been really interested in earth science. Unfortunately, there’s not as much earth science in the school curriculum as much as there is biology and chemistry. Science Olympiad is a good way to step beyond that curriculum.”

Ironically, Kelly earned his master’s degree and is now pursuing a doctorate at Colorado State University, the site of this weekend’s Science Olympiad National Tournament. He said he is excited to meet up with some of his old coaches and watch the Buccaneers compete.

Kelly was a member of the Grand Haven Science Olympiad team for seven years, beginning as a sixth-grader at White Pines Middle School.

The Bucs advanced to the national competition each of Kelly’s seven years on the team, and he recalls fondly trips to Indiana, Wichita State, Augusta State, George Washington and Illinois universities.

“I remember the first time I went to nationals, it was the first time I’d really gone somewhere and been on my own,” he said. “It was a cool experience — I’ve earned this trip, and I’m here to compete against the best students in the nation.”

Kelly’s teams finished second in the nation twice, including his freshman year when it took place at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“For me personally, that was the culmination of all the hard work, and I was able to win two first-place medals,” he said. “That was really cool, having my parents there and attending the awards ceremony in Washington, D.C.”

Nathan, the son of Brian and Mary Kelly of Grand Haven, encourages this year’s Science Olympiad competitors to take advantage of the experience, focusing on the entire tournament, not just their specific events.

“I’d just enjoy the experience,” he said. “It’s a really good way to meet lots of other similarly minded students from across the country, and to explore a college campus. It’s easy to get sucked into the competitive aspect, but especially now, Science Olympiad at the national tournament provides a lot of extracurricular activities to the students so they can learn about the college and a lot of different scientific fields. I’d definitely take advantage of that opportunity that nationals provide, beyond just the competition.”

In fact, Kelly will be hosting some of the Grand Haven High School students Friday morning, giving them a tour of the Atmospheric Science campus at CSU.

“When I first heard the national tournament was coming to Colorado State, I was at the wedding of a former Science Olympiad teammate of mine, so that was pretty cool to hear,” he said. “I’m hoping to see some of my coaches who I haven’t seen since high school. I just really like being around the whole Science Olympiad environment, especially when I have a personal connection to one of the competing teams.”

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