GENIUS Olympiad: Crafting a Global Platform for Young Scholars
Dr. Fehmi Damkaci, President of Terra Science and Education, as well as the Dean of the D’Youville University School of Arts and Sciences.
As our world becomes all the more globalized, we are more connected than we’ve ever been before. We go online and instantly reconnect with our loved ones. We follow breaking news as it unfolds, regardless of where in the world it’s taking place. The youngest generations are, perhaps, interconnected on an even higher level, forging unlikely friendships with their peers from entirely different cultures and realities.
In this context, as a professor, I often wondered when did digitalization leave the education sector. Certainly, the technology we use in our classrooms has modernized, from interactive whiteboards to virtual platforms, which allowed us to maintain some sense of normalcy during the pandemic.
But as I watched international students form unbreakable ties on college campuses, immersing themselves in brand-new cultures, I became aware of a gap that overlooked the ever-curious high-school geniuses. What about them?
The Quest for Inclusive Educational Opportunities
We say the young are the leaders of tomorrow, and that’s undeniably true. Still, hundreds of brilliant minds are at risk of slipping through the cracks of missed and inaccessible opportunities. Watching students shine in their respective fields, I’ve always felt that when young scholars from different corners of the earth come together in pursuit of knowledge, they develop a profound appreciation for the diversity of human experiences by sharing their unique and personal perspectives with each another.
This cross-cultural interaction is invaluable in shaping a future generation that appreciates difference, thrives on collaborations, and – most importantly – unites in their efforts to contribute to greater environmental sustainability throughout their lives.
This is the idea that motivated me to establish the GENIUS Olympiad in collaboration with universities. Our mission is to harness the power of international educational experiences, enlighten young minds about environmental issues, and give them a platform to truly become a part of that dialogue.
GENIUS Olympiad is a project-based competition in five disciplines where we aim to promote a deeper understanding of environmental concerns and the achievement of sustainability through basic science, arts, creative writing, engineering, design, and business development. Students from any corner of the world can apply and – should they be chosen – they fly in to present their project. This change is undoubtedly indispensable in kicking the door open to various opportunities, from scholarships to a boosted resume for college applications.
Teaching Sustainability through Project Learning
When it comes to the push toward a greener, more sustainable future – it is essential to include the younger generations. By introducing learners to environmental concerns at an early age, we help them comprehend the gravity of the situation. This understanding instills in them a sense of urgency, pushing them to think critically about their role in addressing these issues.
The impact of early sustainability education extends beyond the classroom, too. When young minds grasp the importance of sustainable living early on, they’re more likely to carry these values throughout their lives. They grow into informed citizens who make decisions that prioritize the environment, whether it’s choosing to recycle, opting for public transportation, or advocating for clean energy policies.
In seeking the best ways to turn this philosophy into reality, we opted for project-based learning for a simple reason: it’s an immersive and, most importantly, a student-focused method that encourages learners to become active participants rather than mere spectators in the educational process.
Learning isn’t just about solving equations on paper or memorizing facts for a test. It should involve tackling real-world problems and foster a sense of relevance and immediacy that a traditional classroom setting may lack.
We all want to be heard. In fact, as adults, we go out of our way to be heard and seen – especially more so in this digital era where social media has made this possible. In the classic education system, the voices of the students are more often than not cast to the sidelines. But, if we want them to take the world’s issues and challenges seriously, we must provide them with a platform to express themselves.
This is precisely what we’re doing with the GENIUS Olympiad. As our students immerse themselves in their projects, they have to dissect complex concepts, scrutinize details, and weave together information from various sources. For instance, they might have to create a sustainable business model, an eco-friendly engineering solution, or pen an impactful tale around environmental conservation.
These hands-on projects engage learners on a deeper level, pushing them to apply their knowledge in practical contexts. Additionally, such a rigorous intellectual exercise sharpens their analytical and critical thinking abilities, equipping them with the necessary tools to understand the problems of the contemporary world, as well as with a genuine desire to solve them.
As a global platform, we have strived to align our sustainability mission with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These 17 ambitious goals aim to create a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable world by 2030, and we want to contribute to these goals as much as possible.
I believe that by seamlessly intertwining project-based learning with diverse fields of study—ranging from science and engineering to art and business—we have already made strides in weaving the UN’s goals into our competition, encouraging learners to see their projects in a broader, global context.
Exploring Beyond the Classroom: Campus Field Trip Insights
From a more practical perspective, students can learn about the curriculum and college admission processes while exploring the many schools and departments available at these universities.
Aside from this pragmatic understanding, there’s another, more profound value at play. As students step into this unfamiliar environment, they’re exposed to an array of new philosophies. This exposure expands their horizons, opening their eyes to ideas that might have otherwise remained unknown.
The bond our GENIUS Olympiad participants forge in shared experiences of the new and exciting cultural exchange has truly fulfilled our quest of transcending geographical boundaries and providing the youngest generations with a meaningful platform where they can contribute to the eco-centric discourse with their innovative ideas. We’re creating a global network of future leaders, scholars, scientists, artists, and citizens who have the potential to pave the way toward a safer and sustainable future.
When we look back at the journey of our participants, we don’t just see the challenges they faced – we see their triumphs and their adventures. As they step onto the iconic campuses of some of America’s best universities, these students are not only experiencing the uniqueness of our college life, but they’re also embracing and celebrating the universality of human curiosity and ambition.
And when we’re looking into the future, we’re hoping for more and more young people to join us in this initiative and explore not just the beauty of American campuses but to seize their chance of becoming a part of these universities’ legacies.