RU Odyssey team earns second at world competition


The Odyssey of the Mind Team's sign

Several students represented Radford University on the international stage at the Odyssey of the Mind (OOTM) World Finals.

Three RU students joined students from Sweet Briar College, Liberty University and Central Virginia Community College to earn second place in their division at the May 28 competition, held at Iowa State University.

"The entire group was thrilled to have represented Virginia and RU in such a brilliant light," said team president and organizer Kenzie VanDerwerker. "Over 6,000 people from around the United States and the world heard the 'Radford University' name."

Odyssey of the Mind is a creative problem-solving competition with participation spanning from kindergarten to college students. The Radford team was organized by Kenzie and her sister, Audra. The pair participated in OOTM in high school, and when they learned there was not a team to represent Virginia at the world competition, they did what they do best – solved the problem.


Members of the RU Odyssey of the Mind team: Back row (from left) Kenzie VanDerwerker, Robert Worley, Benjamin Brumback, Joey Delledera; front row(from left): Audra VanDerwerker, Autumn Foster, Mariah Skalka

They reached out to fellow OOTM participants at other colleges and to RU's Assistant Director of Student Activities John Leonard for approval, and the university's first OOTM team was established.

The team was tasked with tackling a challenge from five different categories: technical/mechanical, classical, performance, vehicle or balsa wood structure.

They chose the technical/mechanical category, this year titled "The Not-So-Haunted House."

Kenzie VanDerwerker explains: "We were required to have mechanical contraptions that completed different tasks in a setting that could be considered haunted. All the tasks required an aspect that popped up, popped in or appeared suddenly.  Additionally, one had to change the appearance of a character; one had to make a sound; one had to look like one thing but actually be something else; and one that we created on our own.  We decided to create a haunted underwater theme with a Shadow Villain who kidnapped a fish friend, and other fish banded together to solve the mystery. Our puffer-fish puffed up using an extensive pulley system - this was our most difficult trick to perfect. A 'storm' popped up using hydraulics, which triggered a rain sound.  At a petting zoo, a monkfish 'snapped' into a shark using spring-loaded mechanics, and a piranha, powered by a battery-operated motor, rose up and ate a small fish."


RU Odyssey of the Mind team President Kenzie VanDerwerker (left) and her sister, Audra, stand with the trophy they won at the World Finals competition, held in May at Iowa State University.

After dedicating marathon-long days to concoct their creation, the group won the state meet in April.

The next feat was the World Finals, less than a month away.

They drove 20 hours – with help from a "buddy car" carrying props, sets and costumes – to Iowa State University at the end of May for a week of competition.

"The world competition was a crazy blur of excitement," VanDerwerker said. "We had a blast driving from Virginia to Iowa - creating lip-syncing videos to entertain ourselves, and when we arrived on campus, we were assigned dorms, and the week began."

Aside from competing, the Radford team was also busy volunteering during the Spontaneous portion of the program, where teams solved a problem on the spot.

The Spontaneous leader sent a letter to the RU team, recognizing the energy and excitement they brought to the competition, forcing other teams to "step up their game."

The team did just that, earning second place in Division 4, placing just behind a group from Poland.

"The cheers from the Virginia section - with chanting of 'Radford' - were really cool to experience as we ran to the podium to accept our medals and trophy," VanDerwerker said. "I was really proud to be representing my school."

"While Poland may have beaten us this year – we are hoping to bring home the gold to Radford University next year," she added.

To see a video of the RU team's performance at the World Finals, visit Odyssey of the Mind at Radford University Facebook page.

Jul 7, 2014