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Announcing our partnership with Riverside STEM Academy, and our commitment to competitive integrity


My name is Michael Tin, and I am currently serving as the Tournament Director for UC Riverside’s Highlander Invitational. I wanted to provide some insight as to why we will not be an official alumni chapter this year, and our operating procedure for the upcoming season. 

Highlander Invitational was a project that was started last year (2022-2023) under the student organization "Change in Scientific Importance for Youth" (Delta SIFY) which aims to provide immersive educational opportunities for students in underserved communities to explore the fields of STEM. We formed the tournament with the intent of furthering this goal and growing the Science Olympiad as a whole in the Inland Empire, as UCR had not hosted an invitational before and there was no in-person invitational tournament within the IE. For the 2023 season, we hosted an online tournament with the goal of learning from the experience and being able to build a team to host an in-person tournament at UC Riverside the following year. The inaugural Highlander Invitational was hosted in a satellite format and we were able to connect with hundreds of students from around the country. Building off of this success, we set our sights on 2024 and prepared to host an in-person invitational for the next season to truly start to work towards our vision.

However, with the rapid expansion of the scope of Delta SIFY that year, we did not have a well-documented procedure to make decisions and innovate on the different initiatives of the organization. This led to us 1) creating new projects without considering how/if they would be run in the future and 2) failing to consider if there would be any conflicts of interest between initiatives. The previous president of Delta SIFY was a Riverside STEM Academy alum, and had started a coaching program beginning Summer 2022 (this was before I personally had any involvement with Delta SIFY). She recruited students from UCR to coach the Riverside STEM Academy (Div B only) team. This was not an issue at that time as the idea of Highlander Invitational had not come up at that time.

The core issue is that when we brought in the Highlander Invitational, we did not consider the conflict of interests between different Science Olympiad initiatives at UC Riverside, both past and present. After reviewing the course of events that took place over the 2022-2023 academic year, we identified three main conflicts:

  • Delta SIFY continued to exclusively coach Riverside STEM Academy for the 2022-2023 season. We did not make a proper disclaimer of doing so.
  • There was another student organization at UC Riverside which had historically contributed tests to the Inland Empire Regional, which is a qualifier for state.
  • Delta SIFY members also proctored certain events at Inland Empire Regional, which included Crime Busters, Codebusters (B/C), and Experimental Design (B/C).

In doing so, we had created major ethics violations. I want to be upfront and clarify that we had no malicious intent, nor did we ever engage in any favoritism or bias for any student. I can say that with 100% certainty on behalf of all Delta SIFY members. However, I will take full responsibility for any ethics violations that occurred in the past on behalf of my team. Moving forward, it is integral that we properly assess the program in order to maintain competitive integrity throughout our programs and ensure that we can maintain program growth in a sustainable manner. Ahead of the 2023-2024 season, we have made an important change to our program. While our new operating procedure does remove the actual conflict of interest, this does not remove the appearance of conflict of interest. In an ideal world, we would have put the coaching program on pause for the year as we work towards a proper solution; however, we have already recruited coaches and set up the program for the upcoming year (this means that for the time being, Riverside STEM Academy is reliant on the partnership with Delta SIFY/UCR in terms of coaching).

Therefore, we have made the following changes to our program for the upcoming year in order to address these potential concerns (actual conflict of interest + appearance of conflict of interest):

  1. We will continue to exclusively coach Riverside STEM Academy for the remainder of the 2023-2024 Science Olympiad Season.
  2. Highlander Invitational will be run in partnership with Riverside STEM Academy. We will make an official announcement on this next week through our social media channels, as well as our website.
  3. Riverside STEM Academy students (both middle and high school) will still be able to compete at Highlander Invitational, however they will not be eligible for any trophies or medals.
  4. As part of the partnership, we will open up the opportunity for Riverside STEM Academy High School students to write tests for Division B Highlander Invitational.
  5. UC Riverside will not be an official alumni chapter this year. We will not partner with any other alumni chapters to run Highlander Invitational.
  6. We will work with all regional and state tournaments to ensure that UC Riverside students are not involved in those competitions whatsoever.
  7. Individuals who serve as a test writer, event supervisor, or tournament coordinator for any regional or state tournament will not be eligible to volunteer in the Highlander Invitational.

Although we will not be an official alumni chapter this year, we believe that this is the best interim solution for all parties involved currently. We will use this academic year to innovate on our coaching program and work towards a model where we can offer coaching to all schools throughout the Inland Empire. Additionally, we remain committed to our goal of delivering the premier Inland Empire Science Olympiad experience at UC Riverside. We appreciate your patience and understanding as we look forward to another great season of Science Olympiad.

- Michael


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