MU English, Odyssey of the Mind, and Star Wars

This workshop of Leonardo feature scenery made of painted cans.
This workshop of Leonardo features scenery made of painted cans.

On March 8th, Millersville University hosted the East Central Regional Odyssey of the Mind tournament, bringing 613 K-12 students from 55 schools to Millersville to display their creativity in a day filled with ingenuity and teamwork. I got involved in Odyssey 10+ years ago, as a coach. When I saw that the tournament didn’t have a venue that supported its size well, I contacted the regional director to see what could be done, and asked Millersville if we could hold the tournament on our campus. The folks at Millersville were super supportive in bringing the tournament to campus.  However, they had no idea the first year that this would mean thousands of people!  By the second year everyone understood the scope, and the folks at MU Student Services and I started working with the Odyssey Regional Board and Director to plan how to best support the teams on their big day. We have now hosted the tournament for 10 years. The events take place primarily in the Student Memorial Center (SMC), Stayer Hall, and Pucillo Gym, with some other venues that vary by the year.

Odyssey participants are definitely students we’d like to have at Millersville one day.  Their creativity, their team spirit, their resourcefulness, and their work ethic all say that they would be amazing community members.  Specifically, students who prefer the Classics problem seem well suited for English and students who prefer Problem 4 for AEST.  But no matter what problem students choose, they all focus on creating a narrative, which is the heart of English.

Turns out the Marauder is an excellent UNO player. Beware!

Students in Odyssey work for 4+ months to create a short (less than 8 minutes) play to “solve a problem.”  There are 5 choices of problems for grades 3-12, each with a different slant (creating a vehicle, classics, balsa wood structure, etc.), and a special problem for K-2.  Participants must work together to put various required aspects into their narratives and scenes, and they have to construct their scenery with limited resources and so that they can move it by themselves quickly into the competition space.  Working under these restrictions makes students come up with unique approaches that help them understand more through hands-on application of their ideas.  They learn by doing–together.

Students also have to work together as a team to solve a spontaneous problem that they get the day of the competition. The problem can be verbal or hands-on, or a combination of the two. The team has to decide on the best players to address the task at hand and then those players work together to try to maximize points in the fast-moving event.

Garrison Carrida with Dr. Craven

Odyssey usually occurs the first Saturday of Spring Break.  We always appreciate volunteers to help with the day.  Over the past 3 years, volunteers from Garrison Carida Troop 501 have thrilled participants by bringing the Star Wars characters to life during the awards ceremony and on campus.  Darth Vader, Chewbacca, the Storm Troopers, the Royal Guard, and other characters have made brought the world of adult creativity into Pucillo as they interacted with participants. Let’s not forget that George Lucas studied the structure of myth to give the Star Wars stories a solid foundation!

While the Star Wars characters are very visible volunteers, the whole Odyssey of the Mind competition is run completely by volunteers who value creativity, teamwork, and the importance of fostering these qualities in the next generation.  I find this aligns both with the values of the English Department and with the values of Millersville University as a state public university committed to educating citizens who can contribute to their communities–both regional and global. If you value those ideas, please think about volunteering for next year’s competition by emailing regional director Lynn Fyfe.

All the work culminates is a fabulous day at Millersville, where teams get the space, the food, and the fun to make the day both memorable and special. Many thanks to all who volunteered to make East Central PA’s Regional Tournament the success it was. And particular thanks to Millersville University for giving us the space to make it happen. Create on!

Owen J. Roberts team with Garrison Carrida at the OM Awards
Owen J. Roberts team with Garrison Carrida at the OM Awards
Excitement on stage as a team realizes it is moving on to the State Competition.









–Jill Craven