NIU hosts Destination Imagination statewide tournament on March 24

Illinois’ most creative young problem-solvers will arrive at NIU in 120 teams from throughout the state for the Illinois Destination Imagination Affiliate Tournament on Saturday, March 24.

This statewide competition allows the top elementary, junior high and high school aged teams from each region to compete in a variety of creative hands-on challenges related to STEM, fine arts and service learning. Winning teams in each challenge and division will advance to the Global Finals at the University of Tennessee in May.

Diana Dignan, co-affiliate director of Destination Imagination (DI) Illinois, says, “We have students from all over the state of Illinois and even from Iowa coming to this tournament. We’re very excited about showing NIU to our teams from throughout the state, as well as showing the NIU community what Destination Imagination is all about.”

Amy Jo Clemens, assistant director of NIU’s Center for P-20 Engagement, says, “Student competitions in academic areas are as valuable for children as student competitions in athletics. When students start competing against other teams and move into an organized program like Destination Imagination, they are building their skills beyond the classroom, meeting other students with like interests and meeting professionals who will help support and grow them into their career area.”

Clemens continues, “These competitions are also ways to help students develop ‘soft skills,’ or employability skills like working in teams, good communication and learning to meet high expectations.”

According to Dignan, working together to solve problems creatively is central to the mission of Destination Imagination, a volunteer-led non-profit dedicated to empowering students to thrive in an ever-changing economy.

“Last week at one of our tournaments, we had a high school team signed up to do an improv theater challenge,” Dignan says. “They watched another type of challenge and said, ‘We want to try that, too.’ So they gathered supplies from things that were on hand, they borrowed a tool or a piece of wood from other groups, and the groups all rallied around to cheer on that team as they solved the challenge.”

“We want to see that creativity, that way of looking at life and saying, ‘I can do that,’” Dignan continues. “In these tournaments, kids are building skills that they’re going to use for the rest of their lives.”

Each year, more than 100 NIU student volunteers dedicate their time to make the statewide tournament a reality.

“These students act as ambassadors for NIU, helping to welcome and direct the hundreds of families who come to our DeKalb campus from all over the state,” says NIU volunteer recruiter Sara Finnigan. “They help run the event by acting as score runners, working the registration table and the raffle table, and helping to set-up and take-down. These student volunteers represent NIU to a younger generation of students and their families.”

In addition to competing in team challenges, the Destination Imagination participants and their families will also have a chance to explore the NIU campus and get a taste of some of the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) possibilities available at NIU.

Highlights will involve tours of the NIU Engineering Building offered by NIU engineering students at 1 p.m., as well as a STEM demonstration show by the NIU P-20 Center’s STEM Outreach team at 5 p.m. at the NIU Convocation Center.

According to STEM educator Jeremy Benson, the excitement and creativity of the Destination Imagination competition are contagious and make this demo show one of the best of the year. “We love the creativity and ingenuity of the entire DI event, and we like to include that energy in our show,” Benson says.

He continues, “This year’s show will feature some of our favorite demos, including a few liquid nitrogen experiments, as well as some on light and color using our rainbow diffraction glasses. Because of the number of people we have for the DI show each year, we like to bring out some of our bigger demos that we don’t get to use as often, which is fun for everyone.”

According to Dignan, all Destination Imagination tournaments are open to the public with no fee. “A tournament is one of the coolest ways to see what Destination Imagination is all about,” she says.

The tournament will begin at 8 a.m. with check-in at NIU’s Wirtz Hall. Volunteers in Wirtz Hall will be able to guide participants and spectators to challenges taking place across campus. Tours of the Engineering Building will take place at 1 p.m. The NIU STEM Outreach demo show will take place at 5 p.m. at the Convocation Center, followed by an award ceremony.

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