By Haddon Libby

Science, technology, engineering and math are commonly referred to as STEM learning.  Most of today’s advancements in technology, medicine and everyday life are due to the efforts of people with engineering, math and science degrees.  According to the U.S. Department of Education, the greatest opportunity for the best paying jobs will be in STEM fields like biomedical engineering, data mining and medical scientists. 

One of the greatest human resource challenges facing the United States at present is a growing gap between students graduating ready for STEM-related jobs and the need in business for workers with those skills.  This shortage of qualified workers is giving other countries like India, China and Korea the opportunity to win a disproportionate share of those future high paying jobs. 

With this as a challenge confronting us, it is refreshing to see that a small but growing number of school aged children are becoming involved in Odyssey of the Mind.

Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problem-solving program that teaches children at all grade levels innovative STEM-related problem solving skills while creating vehicles that move or fly, designing the set or writing a script.  Think of it as a chance for the students to show their inner Albert Einstein and Nathan Lane.

On March 9th, students from schools across the Inland Empire converged on Indian Springs High School in San Bernardino to make their performances and compete for a chance move on to the State Finals. 

Coachella Valley schools taking part in this year’s Odyssey of the Mind competition were Washington Charter School of Palm Desert, Palm Desert Charter Middle School and Nellie Coffman Middle School of Cathedral City.

Washington Charter School finished with a perfect 350 score in Structure Toss – Division 1 (Grades 3-5). Their challenge included a carnival setting as part of their eight minute performance.  Their performance needed to include a vehicle, a structure, some song or dance and a number of technical factors. 

Palm Desert Middle School placed second with Classics…Leonardo’s Workshop – Division II (Grades 6-8).  In this challenge, PDMS brought to life Leonardo DaVinci, made a three-dimensional portrayal of one of his artworks and created a commonly used item that we use today but DaVinci tossed away as useless. 

Mia Groendycke,
Washington Charter School

Washington Charter School had two teams in Opposites Distract – Division I placing second and third.  In Division II, the most crowded field, Nellie Coffman came in fourth of ten schools.  Their challenge was to show how disagreements between groups can keep everyone distracted from the bigger picture.  As part of the challenge, a sneaky character orchestrated the distractions in order to take control.

Meanwhile, Washington Charter’s had two Primary teams (Kindergarten through 2nd) with the challenge being to create a museum with three exhibits.  At this age level, the performances are graded but shared only with team coaches for learning purposes. 

The Coachella Valley fielded no Division III (Grades 9-12) or Division IV (collegiate) teams.

On March 23rd, Southern California will be holding its finals at the University of California – Riverside on University Avenue in Riverside.  The event is free for the public to attend.  For more information, visit

Two months later, the World Finals will be held at Michigan State University in East Lansing from May 22nd through the 25th.  Schools from approximately 25 countries will be in competition.  For more information, visit

If you are interested in starting a team at your school, visit

Whether it is Odyssey of the Mind or some other STEM learning program, this type of education is critical for our children to have a better tomorrow. 

Haddon Libby is the Founder, Managing Partner and Fiduciary of Winslow Drake Investment Management.  For more information, email or visit