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Bechtel’s Impact Report

National Science Bowl becomes a passion for Pantex employee

  • By
    portrait of Tina Banks
    Tina Banks, Public Affairs Specialist
  • 30 April 2021
     5 Min Read

With spring comes sunshine, flowers, and a tradition that’s become one of the biggest events of the year for future scientists and engineers.

In its 30th year, the National Science Bowl® is a nationwide academic competition that tests students’ knowledge in all areas of science and mathematics and has become a true passion for Regional Science Bowl Coordinator Darla Fish.

As community and education outreach coordinator for Pantex, a Bechtel-led nuclear security plant near Amarillo, Texas, Darla has been organizing and volunteering with the Science Bowl for more than 10 years. She has expanded the Texas Panhandle and South Plains regional program and is responsible for gathering the volunteers, venues, and equipment to produce the regional events.

“Just to be able to watch these students compete is a real joy,” said Fish. “For a lot of them, this competition is their Super Bowl. They are smart, gifted children who really will be our future scientists. For me, it is really important that Pantex helps to develop and invest in these students and lets them know how important STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education is to the community and to Pantex.”

The National Science Bowl was started in 1991 by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Each team is comprised of four students, one alternate, and a teacher who serves as an advisor and coach. Teams face off in a fast-paced question-and-answer format, being tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, earth science, physics, energy, and math. Beginning in January, more than 9,000 high school students and 5,000 middle schools students compete in 115 regional competitions. The winning team from each regional event then  competes in the finals in Washington, D.C.

Science Bowl has reached thousands

“For many of my kids, it is the first time they have ever seen the nation’s capital,” says Darla when discussing volunteering for the finals in D.C. “It is a real honor and a personal mission to ensure they not only represent our region well, but also have fun and learn about our country through organized tours and events during their time in D.C.”

Approximately 315,000 students have participated in the National Science Bowl throughout its 30-year history, and it is one of the nation’s largest science competitions. 

DOE’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. The National Science Bowl is just one program the DOE uses to advance science and their mission.

As a global, trusted partner in the engineering and construction industry, Bechtel also is committed to helping develop the next generation of engineers. Supporting the National Science Bowl is just one of the ways Bechtel helps young people around the world explore the STEM subjects.

Science champion grows program

For Darla, science was never her strongest subject, but when she landed her dream job at Pantex, it became her passion. She has been the community and education outreach coordinator since 2017 and during that time has continued to help grow the Pantex Regional Science Bowl program to be one of the most successful in the state. She also is responsible for organizing the regional middle-school and high-school events and recruiting all the volunteers.

“My planning begins in October and continues through our regional competition in February,” Darla said when discussing her passion for the program. “I usually need about 150 volunteers and have had some who have been volunteering for more than 25 years. It is so much fun to see the same faces year after year. It is like having our own Science Bowl team.”

A different look during the pandemic, but same great competition

The Texas Panhandle and South Plains regional competitions usually take place on the campus of West Texas A&M University, but 2021 has had a different look.

“When the pandemic was unfolding, Nationals decided all regional competitions would be done virtually,” said Darla. “It was a lot of organizing and training of volunteers to make sure everything was set up and working virtually, but we were able to make it a success.”

Despite the pandemic, students have been given the chance to learn and compete in a program that has produced numerous success stories. In fact, Pantex employs some Science Bowl alumni who pursued their passion for science and now have careers working with Pantex. They are now doing their part to advance the DOE’s mission through STEM education and the Science Bowl.

“Competing in the National Science Bowl was an important part of my education,” said Process Engineer Tracy Cunningham. “It provided me with a career path and gave me an outlet to express my passion for science and ultimately led me to a rewarding career at Pantex.”

The 2021 National Science Bowl is in the planning stages with a virtual platform. In the Pantex Regional, Lorenzo de Zavla Wolves took home top honors at the middle school competition, and the Lubbock High Westerners placed first at the high school competition. Each winning team earned $1,000 for their science departments and the ability to represent the Texas Panhandle in the National Science Bowl competition. This is Lubbock High’s fourth year in a row to claim the top spot in the regional high school competition.

The competition for middle school will begin on May 8 and the high school event on May 22 with Darla, of course, volunteering and cheering from the sidelines.

The Pantex Plant is managed and operated by Consolidated Nuclear Security LLC, a company comprised of Bechtel National Inc., Leidos, ATK Launch Systems, and SOC LLC, with Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. as a teaming subcontractor.


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