UMBC chemical engineering students take second place in national Jeopardy competition

Last weekend, four UMBC students earned second prize in the national Jeopardy competition hosted virtually by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). The team competed against 12 other teams at the national level after winning the Mid-Atlantic regional competition in October. 

UMBC’s team included Cameron Sloan ‘21, Nicholas Balasus ‘21, Ellie Vonderhorst ‘22, and Chris Ashby ‘21, all chemical engineering majors. Sloan is chair of the Jeopardy project in UMBC’s student chapter of AIChE, the professional organization for chemical engineers. He explains that participating in the competition was an important moment for the group, though the move to an online format wasn’t ideal. 

Members of the AIChE team preparing for the virtual competition with faculty advisors and peers. Photo courtesy of Mariajose Castellanos.

“Competing virtually had its challenges, for sure, but all in all it was a fantastic experience,” says Sloan. “I wish we would have had the opportunity to meet our competitors and be able to speak to them, rather than just seeing their digitized faces on our screens.”

Preparing for virtual competition

To prepare for the national competition, each team member created a board featuring unique chemical engineering questions. Their goal was to get exposure to a diverse range of question types on a broad range of topics. Faculty in chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering (CBEE) also submitted questions to help the team practice.

Mariajose Castellanos, senior lecturer in CBEE, is the faculty advisor for the UMBC chapter of AIChE. She calls UMBC’s second-place finish at the national level “an extraordinary accomplishment” and also notes that this was actually UMBC’s first time at the national competition. They competed against both the University of Southern California (2019 winner) and Iowa State University (2019 finalist). 

“I am rejoicing in the grit and greatness shown by our chemical engineering students,” says Castellanos, “during a semester that has challenged us at many different levels.” 

Banner image: The UMBC campus in the fall. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.