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Odyssey of the Mind Inspires Creative Solutions in Students


Dr. C. Samuel Micklus, the founder of Odyssey of the Mind (second to left), posing with his daughter (far left) and the high school's 2022 Odyssey of the Mind team. (Courtesy Photo)

By Sarah Vincent--Eagle Staff Writer


Odyssey of the Mind (OM): some may have heard of it, but most likely haven’t. With a mission as unique as its name, OM seeks to foster the ingenuity of its members. OM teams use their creativity and unique talents to create solutions to two given problems. These solutions are performed theatrically, musically, and more at several competition levels and this year, the regional competition is set to take place at our high school on March 18.


Melinda Wickline, Regional Director for the Piedmont Region of Virginia, has spent 30 years in the Odyssey of the Mind program and previously served as a coach and judge, meaning she is more than acquainted with the ins and outs of the OM program than most.


“Imagine being faced with a problem that requires an original solution. It can be frightening. Now imagine not being afraid to solve that problem – that is what OM members learn,” Wickline stated.


Odyssey of the Mind teams are given two dilemmas to solve; a long-term problem and a short-term problem, each with specific challenges that the teams must incorporate into their performance.


“A long-term problem is where we make an eight-minute-long performance that has all the required elements the judges are grading us on,” Abigail Hudson, senior and five-year OM member explained.


Gianna Gregory (junior) and Abby Hudson (senior) explaining their 2022 season long-term solution.

A long-term problem can be a vehicle (constructed by the team), a theatrical performance, a technical device created by the team, a classical performance (think mythology, historical works, etc.), or a structure meant to hold as much weight as possible, as explained in the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide.


"Our short-term problem, we call the ‘spontaneous’ [problem] and it’s where we have to either build something to solve a problem or verbally come up with a creative answer to a question they ask,” Hudson added.


There are three types of spontaneous problems the team can expect on competition day. The problem may require a verbal solution, a hands-on solution, or a combination of both according to the program guide.


The on-campus OM team meets every Thursday to plan out their long-term solution and prepare for what could be their short-term problem, despite not being presented until the competition. The kicker is, they do it all on their own.


“They don’t get any help from adults. That’s the main thing,” elaborated Jordan Howell, Odyssey of the Mind coach. “My role is really just to facilitate, to have a space for them to be. Sometimes they ask me questions, but it’s all done by them.”


The team’s preparation all leads up to one big day where their problem-solving skills are put to the test: regionals. This competition is hosted on campus in March with 18 other schools in attendance.


Some of Virginia's Odyssey of the Mind teams come together for the 2022 Virginia OM competition. (Courtesy Photo)

According to the Odyssey of the Mind Program Guide, there are three scoring categories that contribute to a team’s placement: their long-term score, style score, and short-term score. The team’s long-term score will be determined based on how well they met the requirements of their long-term problem and the creativity invested in it. The style score is also based on the long-term problem but builds specifically on the team’s creativity element. Similarly, short-term scoring is mostly based on the creativity of the short-term solution and the team’s collaboration.


Last year, the team won third place in the state competition and went all the way to the world competition. Hudson reports feeling just as confident about the team’s merit in the 2023 season.


“We started practicing I believe by the end of August and our prospects are looking very promising,” she added.


Howell expressed similar excitement for the competitions ahead.


“I think after we’ve competed, we’re definitely all going to have really good memories of that day,” she said.


More than just memories, OM prepares its members for the real world.


“OM…emphasizes teamwork, budgeting, time management, public speaking, and so much more,” Wickline reported.


The benefits are already visible for several student members here.


“People who are maybe more shy have come out of their shells a lot… I think the most growth they’ve seen is their ability to politely disagree and their ability to compromise,” Howell commented.


Odyssey of the Mind provides opportunities to students beyond the competition. OM has exclusive scholarships for members and creates meaningful friendships and community connections through its creative engineering.

From left to right: Layla Willie (sophomore), Gianna Gregory (junior), Megan Oliver (former sponsor), and Abby Hudson (senior) travel to their OM competition.

“I love that it gives me a space to be creative and learn new skills, and the community is just so amazing. I keep doing it because it brings me so much joy and I feel like every year I learn more and improve,” Hudson says.


While the Odyssey of the Mind team cannot accept new members until the 2024 season, there are still ways to get involved with the team this year.


“Come when we do our rehearsals and our practice performance … or come to regionals [on March 18] because it’s hosted here,” Howell encouraged.


Any students interested in joining the 2024 Odyssey of the Mind team should reach out to Jordan Howell at jordan.howell@frco.k12.va.us for more information.

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