Winthrop University Home Page
ABOUTADMISSIONS & AIDACADEMICSSTUDENT LIFEATHLETICSGIVING
Menu Header
08/18/2016

Winthrop Alumna Travels to Vietnam to Help With Biology Olympiad

Quick Facts

 While in Vietnam, Winthrop alumna Alena James enjoyed meeting other biologists and making new friends from Tajikistan, Canada, South Africa, South Korea, Australia, Iceland and many others countries.
 James first met the U.S. team when the top 20 biology students in the U.S. competed on Marymount’s campus in June at the USA Biology Olympiad Finals. Nearly 10,500 students from across the country originally tested for the competition, which is sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education in MacLean.

/uploadedImages/news/Articles/Biology-Olympiad-2b.jpg
Alena James of Marymount University, left, is shown with U.S.
team members Thomas Xiong of Katy, Texas; Peter Dun of
Fort Wayne, Indiana; Varkey Alumootil of San Diego, California;
Bowen Jing of West Lafayette, Indiana; and Kathy Frames
of the Center for Excellence in Education.
ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA – Alena James ’08, ’10 recently returned home from Hanoi, Vietnam, where she served as a juror at the International Biology Olympiad. Competing in the July 17-23 event were some of the world’s brightest high school students.

“It was quite the experience to be a part of an international event in the spirit of biology and where politics did not dominate the discussion,” said James, who is the lab coordinator for Marymount University’s Biology & Physical Science Department.

She received both a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Winthrop in 2008, along with a master’s degree in biological sciences in 2010. She earned a master’s degree in biodefense from George Mason University in 2014.

While in Vietnam, James enjoyed meeting other biologists and making new friends from Tajikistan, Canada, South Africa, South Korea, Australia, Iceland and many others countries. She was also happy to see how well the American team performed.

“They worked incredibly hard to prepare for these exams, and several of them spent our entire plane ride to Vietnam studying,” James said. “Seeing them take home three gold medals and a silver medal was very inspiring.”

James first met the team when the top 20 biology students in the U.S. competed on Marymount’s campus in June at the USA Biology Olympiad Finals. Nearly 10,500 students from across the country originally tested for the competition, which is sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Education in MacLean.

The trip was an eye-opener for James, who said the competition was intense for the students, with exams full of graduate-level questions that required critical thinking skills and a strong knowledge of science.

“Students from several countries had never touched some of the lab equipment they were tested on due to lack of resources, and this no doubt affected their marks on the exams,” James said.

She got her own start in science during undergraduate and graduate studies at Winthrop. As a double major in biology and political science, James said her Winthrop experiences fostered her confidence in her scientific educational background and the confidence she needed to feel comfortable in a room full of competing international delegations.

“With 72 different countries taking part in the Olympiad and from countries in the world where news reports focus on highlighting quagmires of political conflict or social depravity, it was really wonderful getting to meet so many international educators,” James said, adding that her participation in the university’s Model United Nations program gave her a greater understanding of more than 60 different countries.

“Being invited to attend the International Biology Olympics was a great milestone for me as it fused together my love of science and my love of world unity; which I definitely credit to Winthrop’s biology & political science departments for helping to instill in me,” she added.

While biology was the focus of the Hanoi event in July, world politics did impact the competition. Because of the recent coup attempt in Turkey, members of the Turkish team were stranded in the Istanbul airport, delaying their arrival. Their government also ordered them to return home early, after taking only a portion of their exams.

“All member states were sympathetic to these students, and we all quite literally stood with them in solidarity,” James said. It was also in a spirit of unity that the entire group celebrated the birthday of a fellow competitor.

“Being in a third-world country singing Happy Birthday to a Russian delegate in unison with 72 other countries right after standing united with the delegates from Turkey was one of the most uplifting experiences of my life,” she said. “It made me find hope for a better world and was my favorite part of the entire trip.”

For more information, contact Judy Longshaw, news and media services manager, at 803/323-2404 or e-mail her at longshawj@winthrop.edu.

[Back to Previous Page]


IN THE HEART OF THE CAROLINAS
© Winthrop University · 701 Oakland Avenue · Rock Hill, SC 29733, USA · 803/323-2211