North Carolina Sea Grant

April 18, 2018 | Danielle Costantini

Above: The North Carolina School of Science and Math team after receiving their prizes for winning the regional Blue Heron Bowl competition.

Editor’s Note: North Carolina Sea Grant is proud to be among long-time sponsors of the annual, statewide Blue Heron Bowl. Here, the member of the 2018 winning team share their preparations for the National Ocean Sciences Bowl this weekend in Colorado.


It’s 8:32 p.m. on a Sunday night, and our marine science quiz bowl team is waiting for our fifth member to arrive for practice.

“Vincent, you’re late!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t sleep much last night! I was too busy completing my 204-term marine technology quizlet!” he replies, referring to a prep tool that we use to train for competitions.

Our team represents North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM), the nation’s first public residential high school focusing on science, technology, engineering and math. We’ve gathered together in our favorite library conference room to prepare for the National Ocean Sciences Bowl in Boulder, Colorado, April 19 to 22. Each member of our group has a unique passion for marine science.

Team members clockwise from top left: Michael Zhang (senior), Shiv Patel (senior), Kelly Wang (junior), Vittal Bhat (junior), Vincent Xia (senior).

Michael reads out the first question of the night: Lophelia coral reefs in the North Atlantic are being primarily damaged by:

Answer W: Rising temperature

Answer X: Trawling

Answer Y: Cyanide poisoning

Answer Z: Pfiesteria

Shiv buzzes in. “X.”

“Why didn’t you buzz after he said trawling?” Vincent asks.

“Because it’s your category, not mine!” Shiv counters.

This evening’s practice is just one of many we’ve had over the past five months in preparation for the national bowl.

Wondering how we got here? It all started with a series of weekly oceanography seminars that our co-captains — Shiv Patel, Michael Zhang and Vincent Xia — led during the first trimester of school in the fall. Each week they explored a new topic in ocean science, ranging from physical oceanography and geology to cutting-edge submersible technology. There even was a lesson on colorful sea slugs!

At the end of the seminar series in November, students were invited to take part in our team tryouts, which entailed a 125-question exam and mock buzzer rounds to simulate the real competition. Based on those results, we selected juniors Vittal Bhat and Kelly Wang to join our team. Together, we studied comprehensively and practiced numerous hours each week.

On Feb. 16, the entire team loaded onto a bus and headed off to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to compete at the 2018 Blue Heron Bowl, the state marine science quiz bowl. We were one of 14 teams participating.

When we arrived, we were met with welcoming gifts of blue heron t-shirts, special pins, decorative scarves, table decorations and name tags.

The next morning had quite a bit in store for us. We competed in five round-robin matches, and ranked first as we headed into the double-elimination portion of competition that afternoon.

NCSSM competing at the first round of regional competition at the Blue Heron Bowl in Wilmington, North Carolina.

From there, we worked together spectacularly — more than just individuals, we were a team. After a dramatic championship match, we came out of the tournament undefeated and exceptionally proud of each and every one of our members.

Winning the regional Blue Heron Bowl qualified us to advance to the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, where we will compete against other teams who won regional competitions across the nation.

The five of us have been studying our hardest for the national competition while juggling other demands. The juniors are working hard to balance standard coursework, while the seniors are planning for their futures.

Vincent most likely will attend Stanford University to pursue an environmental-related degree, and Shiv likely will be attending Northwestern University to study medicine. Michael plans to enroll at Cornell University to study the natural sciences.

Regardless of the outcome at the national competition, each of us will be proud to call ourselves National Ocean Sciences Bowl alumni. We are looking forward to being involved in the competition in future years, whether we’re competing or volunteering.

As a team, we’re grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Ocean Sciences Bowl, and greatly appreciate the work of the National Ocean Sciences Bowl, Blue Heron Bowl and all sponsoring organizations who have contributed to our wonderful experiences.


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