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Divisional wins lead to state competition for AFTAC mentors

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – The teams of two Air Force Technical Applications Center mentors will compete in the Odyssey of the Mind state competition April 6 at the University of Central Florida campus in Orlando. 

Capt. Tyrel Kvasager and Tech. Sgt. Donald E. Freeman, both members of the nuclear treaty monitoring center here, are volunteer team coaches for two Odyssey of the Mind groups in Brevard County, Fla., and the Airmen mentored teams that took first and second place in the regional competition in March. 

OotM is an international problem-solving program involving students from Kindergarten to the collegiate level, including a military division.  The mentors help students work together on long-term projects to solve a problem and present their solution(s) to judges at the competitions. 

There are five categories of problems participants can solve: technical, classical, structural, vehicular or performance-based.  Teams are allowed up to seven total members, but only five can compete in the spontaneous category at the tournament level. 

“Each problem must have STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) elements, and acting is prevalent in all solutions,” said Freeman.  “For our problem, the group had to build a structure out of balsa wood that would be tested by stacking weights on it until it crushed.  The kids had to select all the necessary materials on their own, design the sets and props, write the script and act it out.  My role as their coach was to only provide safety guidance.  It was incredible to see their creativity and teamwork.” 

Kvasager taught a STEAM class and helped coach his wife’s team.  Taylor Kvasager homeschooled the students ranging in age from six to 10, and their group placed second at the regional competition for the second year in a row. 

“The regional competitions last an entire day and the teams present their long-term problem with solutions,” the captain said. “OotM relies on volunteers to judge and support the competitors as well as coach and mentor all the teams.  The program provides children with STEM-related problem-solving opportunities in a unique, child-led setting.” 

Regionals were held at Viera High School in Melbourne, Fla., and included all competitors from the Space Coast.  

“I think there were 10 teams in our division and we competed against each other,” Freeman explained. “We presented our problem to the audience and performed the ‘Spontaneous’ portion of the program – the part that tests the kids’ ability to solve a problem they’re unprepared for.  They can be given and verbal, hands-on or mixed problem, and they have a set amount of time to solve it.  Judging from the scores, my team was on top of their game!” 

According to the OotM website, the program is not limited to just competitions and problem-solving efforts.  It is about friendship and family, and competitors are encouraged to meet new people and learn from others’ ideas. 

“The students in my group ranged from 3rd to 5th grade,” said Freeman.  “I love expanding the ideas of children and watching the cogs of innovation spinning in their eyes.  It is also fulfilling to give back to the community and the school that have done so much for my own kids.  It’s very rewarding.” 

In the United States, each participating state has its own association, which are broken down into regions.  Teams first compete at the regional level, then onto the state level.  The U.S. does not have a national level, so state-winning teams go directly to the World Finals, which are held every year in the U.S. in May.