The convergence of diverse cultures and academic disciplines on a global level has become an increasingly vital phenomenon of the modern era. It is an interaction that fosters a unique blend of perspectives and is essential because of its intrinsic capability to encourage unity and personal development for students hailing from all corners of the globe.
As Dr. Fehmi Damkaci, a renowned chemistry professor, Dean of Arts and Science at D’Youville University, and President of Terra Science and Education, highlights, this type of environment is where future leaders can be created and developed. As a matter of fact, Dr. Damkaci himself is the creative mind of an organization that stands as a paragon of such an ideal - the GENIUS Olympiad.
Hosting more than 1200 participants from more than 120 countries and 45 states, this international high school-level project competition has transcended geographic and academic boundaries. Spanning multiple disciplines, including basic science, arts, coding, robotics, creative writing, engineering, design, and business development, it has served as an arena for bright young minds to showcase their talents and passion while addressing global environmental issues.
As Dr. Damkaci points out, GENIUS Olympiad isn’t a mere competition. “We’re striving to equip students with a comprehensive understanding of environmental concerns and inspire them to become the kind of citizens, scientists, leaders, engineers, artists, and policymakers who will steer our planet toward a more sustainable and unified future.”
This competition, which is open to high school students worldwide, is a true confluence of talent and innovation. But while it’s profound in its significance, the process is quite thorough. Students are required to submit their projects for review, and then they travel to present them in person. Each submission then undergoes a rigorous evaluation by a panel of experts.
Dr. Damkaci reveals that exceptional talent and effort are rewarded using a tiered medal system - Gold, Silver, and Bronze for the top performers in each category. Better yet, owing to this emphasis on creativity and innovation, top students not only have a chance to boost their chances to attend prestigious universities, by becoming eligible for scholarships.
“Many of our students have gone on to attend top-tier institutions like Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, MIT, and Stanford,” he says. “We’ve noticed that participating in our program has been beneficial for college applications of countless students.”
One of the distinctive features of the Olympiad is its multidisciplinary approach. Dr. Damkaci believes in the power of diversity and encourages students to express their understanding of environmental issues through various mediums. So, whether it's art, coding, science, or writing - there’s a place for everyone.
While based in the United States, the GENIUS Olympiad has become, in Dr. Damkaci’s own world, like a “miniature world fair.” With participants hailing from over 120 countries, it allows young minds to bring not just their academic prowess but the richness of their cultures.
On top of the insightful project discussions shared between students, as well as their parents or the teachers who accompany them, there is a stage for all participants to share their culture, for instance, by dancing or singing songs from their countries.
Additionally, the GENIUS Olympiad helps these bright minds to fully immerse themselves in the American culture by allowing them to opt for various field trips, including excursions to historical sights, exploring cities, shopping tours, going to amusement parks, or even visiting some college campuses.
And while these excursions are optional, many choose to attend.
But most importantly, the competition is a fantastic opportunity for young generations to forge global connections and friendships that last long after the medals have been awarded. These interactions, rooted in mutual respect, understanding, curiosity, and shared interests, contribute to a unique sense of cultural diplomacy.
“Our participants are not just competitors. They’re ambassadors of their countries, cultures, and ideas,” Dr. Damkaci says. “We aspire to cultivate a generation that values diversity, collaboration, as well as environmental stewardship.”
So far, the GENIUS Olympiad has been rather centralized, but Dr. Damkaci reveals there are plans to shift toward decentralization, with collaborations with different countries’ representatives already underway.
The first stage of this upcoming selection will happen within each country, ensuring more students are reached via local networks. This approach would eliminate the need for students to travel internationally for the initial round of competition. Instead, they’d compete within their country first.
“Although the finalists will still come to the US, the initial competition within their country will enhance their preparation and improve the quality of the projects we receive,” he explains.
Looking ahead, Dr. Damkaci’s vision for the next decade is to collaborate with at least 50 countries where these initial stages can take place. The goal will remain steadfast - raising awareness about critical environmental concerns and nurturing a global community of young minds poised to pave the way for a sustainable, interconnected, and brighter future.
As he says, “The world’s environmental challenges know no borders. It’s our shared responsibility to address them, and the first step is to start at the grassroots—with our students.”