Students compete in the Rhode Island Academic Decathalon's Superquiz at Bryant University.
High school students from across competed in a variety of intellectual challenges, including the Super Quiz pictured above, at the 41st Rhode Island Academic Decathlon held at Bryant University. More than 70 Bryant students volunteered to assist with the event.
At the RI Academic Decathlon, giving back is the right answer for Bryant volunteers
Mar 21, 2024, by Stephen Kostrzewa
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In room 139 of Bryant University’s Quinlan/Brown Academic Innovation Center (AIC), some of Rhode Island’s future leaders are pouring their hearts out and sharing their hopes, their aspirations, and what drives them. From one’s desire to become a neuroscientist to another’s admiration of their family’s resilience in the face of the Khmer Rouge, the high school students’ carefully crafted allocutions reflect their bright futures and commitment to excellence.

As the students, competitors in the “Speech” portion of the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon (RIAD), deliver their addresses, judges Patrick Roth ’24 and Sean Melanson ’24 and timekeeper Allison Kostiw ’24, Bryant University students and members of the university’s chapter of the Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) Leadership Honor Society, sit quietly.

Though their faces are blank — befitting impartial judges — they are awed by the competitors. “I volunteered at the Decathlon last year too, and I’m still blown away every time,” says Roth, one of more than 60 undergraduate volunteers from Bryant ODK, during a break in the proceedings. “I'm extremely impressed with all of them, and the teachers and the coaches who have helped them to get here.”

Now in its 41st year, the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon, held on March 3, brought together 185 high school students from 15 high schools across the state to test themselves in subjects ranging from mathematics to the social sciences. Organized under the theme “Technology and Humanity,” the competition, supported by more than 130 coaches, organizers, and volunteers, aided the students in honing their talents, practicing their teamwork, and learning to perform under pressure.

This was Bryant’s third year hosting the Decathlon, and the decathletes spent the day competing in the university’s AIC and Stepan Grand Hall, eating lunch in Salmanson Dining Hall, and enjoying an unseasonably warm day on Bryant’s verdant campus.

“Bryant is a very special place where we are able to work with students to help them find their passion and go on to do great things and make an incredible impact in the world.”

That exposure to college life is another perk of the competition, says Francis Lenox, RIAD’s state director. In addition to developing the skills that will help them succeed in college and beyond, the Decathalon is also an opportunity to test out their futures, states Lenox, who points that is the first time some of the competitors have ever set foot on a college campus.

And what better place could there be to get their first taste of college, noted Michelle Cloutier, Bryant’s vice president for enrollment management, in her opening remarks. “Bryant is a very special place where we are able to work with students to help them find their passion and go on to do great things and make an incredible impact in the world,” she told the decathletes. “So, we're very glad you're here with us today.”

The Decathlon shares a lot of its values with Bryant — including a focus on disciplinarity, academic excellence, and mentorship, notes Robert Massoud, lecturer of Management at Bryant University, coordinator for the university’s Team and Project Management program, co-advisor for ODK alongside Associate Director of Student Events and Orientation Programs Laura Field, and a RIAD board member.

By assisting with the Decathlon, says Massoud, the Bryant volunteers are learning about the key element of leadership: giving back. “These students have so many other things they’re involved in, so many other places they could be on a beautiful Sunday afternoon,” he says. “The fact that so many of them are here today speaks very highly of their commitment to leadership.”

Recent Bryant graduate Nicholas Davi '23, now a tax associate at Andersen, has been volunteering at the event for several years now. “These students are so impressive already, but we have a little more experience,” he notes. “By sharing that experience, we can help them better understand the choices ahead of them.”

“It’s about taking whatever you’ve learned in your life and whatever successes you’ve had and just passing it on.”

“Seeing the high school students today, it makes me think of myself in high school,” agrees Kostiw. “They're at an age of development where they're still trying to figure out who they are and where their future is going to take them, and this is a point where can help them with that.”

That’s the secret to volunteering, suggests Mike Gianfrancesco, another longtime member of the RIAD board who judged the speech event alongside the Bryant students: anyone can do it and everyone has something to contribute. “It’s about taking whatever you’ve learned in your life and whatever successes you’ve had and just passing it on,” he said. “And then if you’re lucky, someone else notices that, and then they help out too.”

He’s glad to have the Bryant students by his side, Gianfrancesco says, and the tradition of volunteerism they represent.

"It’s an old saying but it truly does take a village to make something like this possible,” said Rhode Island State Senator and Senate President Pro Tempore Hanna M. Gallo, who spoke at the Decathlon alongside Congressman Gabe Amo. “To have Bryant not just volunteering a place for the competition but so many people willing to help demonstrates a real commitment to the community and events like this that make the difference in so many students’ lives."

At the end of the Decathlon, North Kingstown High School won the honor of representing the Ocean State at the national Academic Decathlon. It was an amazing day, says Sydney Howell, one of the team’s competitors — even beyond the victory and the towering trophy that goes with it. It was fun to test herself alongside her teammates, but it was also eye-opening to explore the campus and even just hang out by Bryant Pond.

“I'm honestly really shocked. I'm really thrilled. And I'm so proud of my team,” she said.

Though there’s no trophy for volunteering, at the end of the day, the Bryant students had a lot to be proud of, too. 

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