Genius Olympiad at SUNY Oswego

by Miguel Balbuena

On June 13 I served as a judge at the Genius Olympiad, held at the State University of New York at Oswego. The Genius Olympiad is an annual competition that this year drew more than a thousand participants, from over 70 countries belonging to six continents, most of whom presented projects in six broad categories: business, robotics, science, visual art, music and creative writing.

In order to pinpoint their application area to this olympiad, students submitting proposals had to be aware that some of these categories had subdivisions. For instance, the category business was broken down into entrepreneurship, and social responsibility; the category science into environmental quality, ecology and biodiversity, resources and energy, human ecology, and innovation; the category visual art into photography, short film, poster design, and satirical illustration, and; the category music into solo performance, group performance, and singer, and; the category creative writing into short story, essay and poetry.

Due to my strong background as a Renaissance man, i.e., a polymath or omnivore, I met the eligibility criteria to be a judge in any of the fields stated above, except robotics, about which I don’t know anything about. I chose to evaluate short film because it was the field that first stuck out when I read the judging application. I thought it would be fun to see how current students managed to express their ideas in the video format.

The contest rules said that these intellectual games were “open to all international and U.S. students studying in grades eight through twelve (or the equivalent),” from 12 year-olds on up. In addition, these rules required an adult supervisor per underage student. Finally, they allowed students to bring other guests.

Before attending this program, I had never been to SUNY Oswego. I have three friends who graduated from this institution of higher learning but they never went into great detail about their lives while studying there. One of them, my former housemate Joe Niles, confided to me that he felt isolated there. That was the extent of my prior knowledge about SUNY Oswego. Somehow, a notion had crept into my brain. It was that this university was a small one at a windswept location on Lake Ontario southern shore. But, on the aforementioned pivotal June date, as soon as I set foot on its campus, I was hit in the face by reality. Although I was right in that it was lakeside, it turned out that was situated on a sprawling
690-acre campus.

The Olympic Games took place in the Marano Campus Center, the school’s version of a student union facility. This center is the largest of the 46 buildings on campus. By itself, this particular building was bigger in square footage than whole colleges such as Crouse Hospital School in Syracuse, for example.

The judging sessions ran from nine thirty in the morning to three thirty in the afternoon with only an hour intermission to get past large long lines of people hungry for lunch, at the Cooper Dining Hall. Thus, time was at a premium, which meant that I wasn’t able to visit buildings other the Marano Center and Cooper Hall. Besides, it began raining hard. Both the center and hall impressed me as having being constructed having practicality in mind rather than aesthetics.

Upon arrival to my final destination, I found sheer pandemonium at the Marano Center. It was swirling with students, chaperones, guests, judges, administrative staff and visitors from the general public, to the point that it was even hard to walk down the hallways. Fortunately, I made it in one piece to the sport arena within the center, where I had to check in and pick up the judging forms and guidelines as well as my credential as a judge, which will allow me to get ahead of the line for the complimentary lunch in view that I had to rush back to participate in the afternoon film screening session. But there was a mix-up. The staff member in charge had given me the science forms instead of the short film ones. Finally, I was told by this staff person to go to an auditorium upstairs to retrieve the correct forms.

It was certainly a high honor for me to have been able to watch and assess films from countries as diverse as Albania, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan and Vietnam. But, at the same time, it was a hectic experience as the roughly 50 videos of eight-minute length apiece run at a breakneck pace with just a few seconds of break between them.

About the author: Miguel Balbuena is a writer in the academic, scientific, journalistic and literary fields (in the fiction and non-fiction genres).