Profile: Pioneer’s Chuikov discovering excitement, rewards in science  


Polina Chuikov has a theory on why Pioneer High School does so well at Science Olympiad events.

“The people on the team are the reason,” says the Pioneer junior. “We push each other to study because all of us want to win and are deathly afraid of being the weak link that brings down the entire team.”

So, studying and fear – a winning formula for the Pioneers, who took first place at the Region 9 Regional Tournament on March 17 at Adrian College. Pioneer beat out Saline for the top spot in what is considered one of the toughest regions in the state. The Pioneer Olympiad team, coached by science teacher Jenni Wilkening, is heading to the 2018 State Tournament in Michigan on Saturday, April 28 at Michigan State University.

Above: Pioneer’s Polina Chuikov. Main Photo: Members of Pioneer’s Science Olympiad celebrate their Regional win.

Wilkening says part of the success has to do with leadership.

“I think that the strong leadership within the Science Olympiad team has been a key factor,” she says. “There are several students that have taken charge of the decision making, logistics, and glue for the team this year. They have worked very hard to prepare the team for each competition.”

Among the strong leaders have been senior Vinay Yarlagadda (captain/president), junior Sampoorna Ravikanth (vice president/secretary) and Chuikov, who is the club’s treasurer.

The 16-year-old junior has been a part of SciOly since elementary school but her “competitive drive” didn’t fully kick in until middle school.

“That’s when I met most of my current teammates,” she says. “Since around seventh grade, each year has been split into two parts: break and SciOly season. During the competitive season there is no rest. The entire team spends countless hours every week preparing for an average of one to two invitationals, regionals and states.”

Chuikov admits that Science Olympiad can be demanding but the rewards have been worth the effort.

“I may have lost hundreds of hours in time, gained frustration and stress on a daily basis, but I’ve also acquired a solid base of scientific knowledge that helps me out in school, the motivation to move forward with my studies, and the feeling of having all of my struggles resolve themselves in one way or another when we win (which we usually do at the local level),” she says. “All of this is in addition to the friends I’ve made. Everyone knows everyone in Science Olympiad because there’s no bonding factor like knowing you will win or fail based off of your performance together.”

Pioneer Science Olympiad team photo taken at Portage Invitational (Dec. 9, 2017)

Chuikov, whose interests include drawing, reading, and biking, also is a member of the National Honor Society and USA Biology Olympiad.

Science runs in the family so it was only natural that she took the baton and ran with it.

“My father, someone who has dedicated most of his life to studying biochemistry and genetics, pushed me to join Science Olympiad in elementary school,” she says. “Though I hesitated at first, I quickly grew to love the diversity of scientific disciplines offered by this club and have remained a member since.”

In Science Olympiad, she tends to gravitate towards biology-oriented events such as Disease Detectives, which deals with Epidemiology, Ecology, and Microbe Mission (microbiology).

While her future isn’t fully mapped out, her plan at this point includes college and then medical school. But right now she is focused on high school and of course Science Olympiad.



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