Marymount Hosts Biology Olympiad for Top American Students

Though he’s still only in high school, Marymount University has already helped Ashwin Srinivasan on the journey to choosing his career path. As one of the top 20 biology students in the nation, the 17-year-old from Herndon learned new skills at the USA Biology Olympiad National Finals, recently held on the MU campus.

    “It really opened my eyes and gave me a new perspective,” said Srinivasan, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology in Alexandria.

    Before the event, he had no experience working in a scientific lab. That changed during the 10-day residential training program in June, where the students learned advanced biological concepts and lab skills with equipment that ranged from scalpels to centrifuges, spectrophotometers and thermocyclers.

    To earn his spot, Srinivasan had to compete in two rounds of exams against 10,500 other students from across the country. He was the only scholar from Virginia to make the finals, which included participants from nine other states.

    “The experience changed my overall outlook,” said Srinivasan, who plans to be a researcher in a biological field. “Biology Olympiad has exposed me to various topics in biology in a context outside the textbook, which has really allowed me to see which fields I may like and which ones I don’t.”

    Srinivasan said the extensive lab practice also allowed him to make connections between the theories he learned in books and what he observed in experiments.

    Alena James, the lab coordinator at Marymount, said the competition is not only a great way to recognize outstanding students but also provides a way for them to network with other gifted teens.

    “It helped motivate them to keep working hard and enabled them to make what I’m sure will be lifelong friendships,” James said.

    The finals at Marymount were spearheaded by Todd Rimkus, chair of the Department of Biology and Physical Sciences, with assistance from James. Other MU instructors were Susan Agolini, Arianna Caprioli, Amanda Wright, Bonnie Burgess, Dragan Djordjijevic and Barbara Kreutzer. Instructors also came from Georgetown, Stanford and Bridgewater universities.

    At the close of the event, 12 finalists received national medals and four students earned spots on Team USA, which is currently competing against teams from more than 60 other countries at the International Biology Olympiad in Hanoi, Vietnam. MU’s James is accompanying them on the trip.

    The Biology Olympiad is administered by the Center for Educational Excellence in McLean, whose mission is to nurture high school and university scholars into careers of excellence and leadership in science, technology, engineering and math.