2022-2023 STEM Club Leaders on Plans for the School Year


Photo courtesy of ZMorph3D on Unsplash.com

Matthias Yeh and Benjamin Wu

As we embark on a new academic year, the STEM clubs at Ward Melville are gearing up to compete at the local, state, and national levels. We’ve interviewed the leaders of Academic Challenges, Coding and Computer Science Club, Math Team, Robotics, and Science Olympiad (Benjamin Proothi, David Wu, Luke Hou, Benjamin Paldy, and Hannah Lin, respectively) for some insight into their plans and goals for the upcoming year.

Q: Why did you join your respective club?

Benjamin Proothi, Academic Challenges President: “I joined because I enjoy trivia and science. This club seemed to offer both.”

David Wu, Coding and Computer Science President: “I joined this club because I enjoy computer science very much; it’s one of my hobbies.” 

Luke Hou, Math Team President: “I joined this club at first because a lot of my friends wanted to join, and also I had a little bit of competitive math experience. I wasn’t really experienced so I thought this might be a good idea for me to get better.”

Benjamin Paldy, Ward Melville Iron Patriots President: “To be honest, I originally had no idea what robotics was all about. When I joined I didn’t even know that I was on a competitive team. I joined, at first, out of pure curiosity, but I stayed because of how cool everything was and how much I loved it.”

Hannah Lin, Science Olympiad Captain: “I joined Science Olympiad way back in 7th grade because of my sister. I always looked up to her and therefore I joined all of the extracurriculars that she did. Although she is who got me into SciO, what kept me in the club was all of the other people around me.”


Q: What is your favorite memory from your time in the club?

BPr: “My favorite memory was probably our trip to Atlanta for Quiz Bowl Nationals. We toured the World of Coca-Cola and had several meals each day.”

DW: “Last year we went to New York City for a competition and it was really fun. We got Korean barbecue and competed at one of Cornell’s institutes in New York City.”

LH: “My favorite memory is probably our Pi Day celebrations where we just bring in a lot of food and pie to eat.”

BPa: “It’s hard to pick a single favorite memory, but one really good one was from our regional tournament. During the competition, there is an area called “the pits,” where teams fix and service their robots. Walking around “the pits,” looking at all the robots, and talking to other teams was an amazing experience that I can’t wait to repeat this year.”

HL: “Definitely winning 1st at states last year. The entire trip is something that I’ll never forget. Meeting other teams, eating pizza in the pool, the competition itself — I think that the trip was a reminder of what SciO really meant to a lot of people. States was the first overnight tournament I’d been to since 8th grade (and my 2nd ever!!) so it was just amazing to not only experience that, but also to win! I remember after we won 1st place I immediately called my mom and told her we won and just started bawling. Everyone was crying happy tears, even the senior boys who were so cool and nonchalant. I think moments like that make people stay involved in SciO even after graduation — I for one am planning on it.


Q: What are the club’s greatest achievements?

BPr: “Probably qualifying for Nationals.”

DW: “I think one of the club’s greatest achievements is introducing Computer Science to those who want to learn it.”

LH: “We generally do pretty well in competitions that we participate in. Last year, we had 8 AIME qualifiers out of 32 AMC 10/12 participants. Also, last year we placed third in the state in NYML (New York Math League).”

BPa: “Our club’s greatest achievements lie in its members and what they are able to take away from their time on the team. While competitive awards are obviously a big part of robotics (we are trying to win a competition, after all), our first and foremost focus is the success of our students. During our season, members spend many hours every week doing hands-on work to design and build our robot. Throughout the year they gain extensive knowledge and experience in engineering and teamwork which will be incredibly helpful later on in life.”

HL: “We are an extremely high-performing team, placing 13th at nationals and 1st at the New York state tournament last year. We are in the top 1% of SciO teams in the country. While our competitive successes are no joke, I think that we also have a community that nurtures growth for our teammates. Many of our alumni attend elite institutions and have a clear goal of their scientific interests from their experience in SciO.”


Q: What does the club do at weekly meetings?

BPr: “Weekly meetings are typically used to practice for competitions. We do scrimmage and live rounds.”

DW: “Each meeting, we break up into around 3 groups: the machine learning group, the intro to programming group, and the competitive programming group. Within these groups, we have different instructors who teach the club members. Sometimes, we have club-wide activities (that we started doing last year) such as building a chess robot.”

LH: “In most of the weekly meetings, we usually just have some announcements. Sometimes, we might do a problem set or two to practice. Otherwise, we would just be attending competitions or sometimes having fun events like, for example, our pi day celebrations. We also host events like math-based escape rooms sometimes and other times like jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire with math questions.”

BPa: “It really depends on when in the year the meeting is. Right now in the offseason, so we are working to get new members trained and up to speed. Soon, we will transition to more hands-on projects like building our t-shirt cannon and refurbishing the 2022 robot. Once the build season starts in January, “weekly” meetings become daily and almost everyone starts working on the design and fabrication of our competition robot that has to be finished by March.” 

HL: “At weekly meetings, we highlight important information that is presented on an agenda. For instance, right now we are going over tryouts. In the future, they will be more focused on tournament deadlines and information for those attending. For those who either weren’t paying attention or couldn’t make the meeting, we send out a meeting recap the night of the general meeting with all important information attached.”


Q: How is the club coming back from COVID?

BPr: “More and more competitions are returning to in-person formats, which is great.”

DW: “Well now that COVID is over, there are more in-person competitions that will draw in more people.”

LH: “Generally, two years ago, Math Team was online, but now it’s back in person. This year, we plan on attending a lot more in-person trips, for example, HMMT (Harvard-MIT Mathematics Tournament) where we would be going to Harvard. Just in general, we have a lot more in-person competitions we can attend this year.”

BPa: “Last year was really rough for our team; we had almost no members and minimal funding. However, through hard work and dedication, we made a rebound this year and have recruited almost 50 members. We are also trying our hardest to improve our financial situation by reaching out to local businesses and large companies for sponsorships and grant funding.”

HL: “I think that during COVID, our team lost motivation because of the lack of team bonding. However, last year was incredible and I can feel the pizzazz of SciO again. There is nothing better than the adrenaline rush at the awards ceremony or the crazy bus rides home. This year when we can go to more in-person tournaments we will be right back in the thick of things.”


Q: What are the club’s competition plans for this year?

BPr: “We’re participating in Science Bowl, Quiz Bowl, and maybe more.”

DW: “This year we plan on competing in most of the ones we did last year, plus a few of the in-person ones. Some of the ones we did last year include ACSL, which is the American Computer Science League, USACO (United States Computing Olympiad), and the Cornell High School Programming Contest.”

LH: “We plan on attending a lot more in-person events, such as the HMMT as I said before. Otherwise, we would generally be doing more or less of the same competitions, like the AMC and NYML.”

BPa: “This year we plan on attending an invitational tournament at Half Hollow Hills in late October. We also compete at the SBPLI Long Island Regional every year in march, which qualifies us for the world championships in Houston if we win.”

HL: “One awesome thing is that we are going to in-person tournaments this year. We plan to go to LISO, MIT, SOUP (SciO at UPenn), and BrownSO (TBD) as in-person invitationals. For remote tournaments, we are going to Rickards, Boyceville, and BirdSO.”


Q: Are there any logistic changes being made to the club this year?

BPr: “No.”

DW: “Compared to last year, no.”

LH: “In general, no. We are pretty much running the same as we have in the past.”

BPa: “Coming out of COVID, last year was not the best for our team’s logistics. This year we are trying to be as organized and streamlined as possible while keeping our team members involved and learning with projects throughout the entire year. We are putting a much larger emphasis on fundraising this year to potentially attend a second regional tournament. In addition, covid regulations have mostly been lifted so we are able to do more volunteer and outreach work that was previously impossible.”

HL: “We’ve added a new position to our officer board — Event Manager. This role is meant to check in with team members to make sure they are up to speed with their event preparation, as well as help prepare equipment for tournaments. They will also analyze team performance at tournaments to help us make the most competitive team possible. We added this position after we had some issues last year with members having senioritis, so this will be a good way to keep track of our team members.”


Q: What is the club looking to do in the future?

BPr: “We are looking at participating in some new competitions this year depending on interest.”

DW: This year we plan to finish the chess robot and teach everyone about computer science.”

LH: “This year in the future, we want to host more school-wide events. For example, last year we did the Integration Bee. This year, we hope to maybe expand to other nearby schools, but we also want to start a tutoring program for those who want math help or help with other types of things such as statistics.”

BPa: “Our club is planning to continue expanding and making connections with other teams and companies in the future, to hopefully gain a consistent sponsorship list and have more streamlined transitions between each year. This year is weird; because of COVID, it’s almost as if we are starting from scratch. We hope that this year can be the first in a series of many good years for our team where we can be successful in competition while making a positive impact on our community.”

HL: “We are looking to have a lot of fun this year. Although we may seem like we just nerd out and study all the time, we make plenty of time for tomfoolery. Our snack cabinet will remain stocked this year (I will make sure of this) and I hope to plan events for us to enjoy. I have some ideas, but I won’t spoil all of them.”