University of Illinois Discontinues WYSE Academic Challenge

By Tech Powered Dad | July 8, 2018

UPDATE: It’s possible that the WYSE Academic Challenge may not be canceled after all. It appears that Eastern Illinois University may bail out the University of Illinois and take over the competition.

Dear Academic Challenge Coaches,

You have probably received the email from UIUC College of Engineering Associate Dean Jonathan Makela that UIUC is discontinuing the WYSE Academic Challenge. I am making an effort to for Eastern Illinois University take over operations of the competition starting with the 2019 competition. I have the approval of Associate Dean Makela for EIU to move forward with this task. Today I met with the EIU administration and I believe they support the effort. I have contacted regional and sectional hosts for the competition and most have replied that they would host the respective level of competition if it is held in 2019.

At this point, for further detailed planning, it would be very useful to know an approximate number of participants. At this point, the plan is to keep the competition the same as last year, i.e same registration fees, same regional, sectional, state structure and advancement qualifying, same exam topics, etc. However, if participation appears to be significantly lower then last year, some cost saving changes may be necessary.

If you could let me know whether or not your school would participate in a 2019 competition or not, please do so as soon as possible. If you have questions, suggestions, or words of encouragement, don’t hesitate to add those to your responses.


Douglas Brandt Physics Department Eastern Illinois University

Given that many teachers don’t check their work email often over the summer, it’s important for anyone who is connected with a WYSE coach to help spread the word to them so they can respond to Dr. Brandt’s request.

Original story follows:

WYSE Competition Discontinued

Recently I did a post on the best STEM extracurricular activities for students. I chose not to go to much into state specific activities, but had I done so, one example I might have cited would have been the WYSE Academic Challenge, Worldwide Youth in Science and Engineering out of Illinois.

This competition involved students taking individual tests that combined for a team (school) score. What made it so interesting was the wide variety of subjects covered: English, Math, Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Computer Science, and Engineering Graphics. Students could take two of these tests but only had to take one. Scores were normalized. As a school, your top two event scores counted. You had to include your scores in English, Math, and Chemistry. Your highest two among the remaining tests counted. Two teams advanced from regional to sectional, two from sectional to state. There were a couple of at-large berths.

This competition has been going on for decades. I’m not sure exactly how long, but at least back to the early 80’s, when it was known as JETS, the Junior Engineering and Technical Society. Many years ago, I was involved in this competition, first as a student, then as a coach. That’s why I got a little pang inside when a friend and current WYSE coach sent me this:

May 18, 2018

Dear Academic Challenge Site Directors, Coordinators, and Coaches:

The College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has supported the Academic Challenge program for many years. Thousands of students have participated in this program. We are proud of their achievements and appreciate the hard work you have invested in these students.

Over the past several years, the combination of decreased student participation with the withdrawal of several regional and sectional sites has made it increasingly difficult to direct resources to the program.

As a consequence, 2018 was the final year that the College of Engineering will offer the Academic Challenge.

We recognize that the Academic Challenge excited and motivated some of our very best students. This decision was difficult, and was only made after efforts to identify another institution interested in taking over this program were unsuccessful.

We deeply thank all of you for supporting the program. We strongly encourage you to consider similar opportunities for high school students supported by the University, such as the Illinois Science Olympiad and FIRST Illinois Robotics.


Jonathan J. Makela

Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

A lot of emotions stir up reading that.

  • Why was it so hard to find hosts for competitions? Did the hosts feel overwhelmed or unsupported? It was pretty obvious there was little enthusiasm from certain local hosts I went to for WYSE, so I’m sad but not surprised to read this.
  • Could a more “social” format involving group tests have appealed to a wider audience (I’ve seen this work with the Illinois ICTM math team competition; I think it especially helps to recruit girls)?
  • So many kids benefited from this program over the years, but so many more could have in the future that now never will.

Most of all, though, this causes one to remember not to take these activities for granted. If you or your child have benefited from an extracurricular academic program, reach out and get involved. It’s volunteers that make it happen. The WYSE Academic Challenge also runs in Missouri. As far as I know, they are still up and running for 2019. I hope they will find the support they need to continue moving forward.

Since I originally posted this yesterday, I’ve had a few reach outs. Among them are hearing that some schools are considering moving over Science Olympiad, which is also a great competition that schools would be wise to consider if the WYSE Academic Challenge is truly gone. That assumes that what appears to be a student driven effort to pressure the grown-ups to revive WYSE does not succeed.

The @saveILWYSE feed has been at it all day, and you have to admire their enthusiasm. They’ve been Tweeting memes, picking up followers, and telling people how to get involved. Not bad for a first day’s effort.

Of course the ultimate tease came when they tweeted this a few hours ago.

Can’t wait to see what this brings!

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