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Young Harris College Odyssey of the Mind Wins Second Place at World Finals

YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – The Young Harris College Odyssey of the Mind team recently competed in the 37th annual World Finals tournament hosted by Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.  The YHC team brought home second place for their division and received the highest score in the “Spontaneous” category.

The team spent several months solving one of five long-term problems that were created by the international Odyssey of the Mind organization.  

“The competition highlights creativity and problem solving skills. There are a few different types of problems or prompts and each has a list of plot points, characters, and items that must be included in the solution – so it is actually quite difficult and requires a lot of planning,” explained Emily Nix, a junior music education major from Winder, Ga.

“The Odyssey of the Mind program challenges students to develop their creativity by solving open-ended problems that appeal to a wide range of interests,” explained Associate Professor of English and Director of the Rhetorica Program Amanda Lawrence, Ph.D., who advices the team.  “In competitions, teams are scored on how creatively they solve problems, which encourages intellectual risk-taking and out-of-the-box thinking. They learn how to identify challenges, think creatively, work well with others, present their ideas to an audience, and work within a tight budget – experiences that will enable them to solve problems throughout their lives.”

YHC competed along with 830 teams from across the globe. The tournament drew a crowd of nearly 20,000 people for the three-day event. “It was amazing to see the different solutions teams came up with and how insanely creative children of all ages are,” said Nix.

Junior business and public policy major Thomas Johnson III, of Pine Mountain, Ga., the founder of the YHC team, became involved with Odyssey of the Mind in second grade. “When I found out YHC didn’t have a team, I decided I wasn’t ready to give up Odyssey of the Mind, and contacted Dr. Lawrence, who participated in the competition through college as well,” said Johnson.  “Dr. Lawrence started working with me before I was even officially accepted to Young Harris. I could not ask for a better advisor.”

Nix was also involved with Odyssey of the mind from a young age. Nix competed when she was in elementary school, but had to stop after her schools no longer offered the program. “When Thomas told me that he was starting a team at Young Harris, all I could think about was how much fun I had doing it in elementary school, and how much better I would be at it now,” said Nix.

Solving the problem created by the international Odyssey of the Mind was not the only issue the team had to solve. Johnson explained that one of the biggest hurdles the team faced was finding a group that “blended” well, a process that took three years.

“They consistently blew me away with what they thought up,” said Johnson, who credits the success at the competition to the team members. “Each individual brought something unique to the table.”

In addition to Nix and Johnson, team members included freshman biology major Caroline Botta, of Marietta, Ga., freshman art major Peter Dalsemer, of Hayesville, N.C., freshman creative writing major Stendria Evans, of Griffin, Ga., recent interdisciplinary studies graduate Destin Leidner, of Atlanta, Ga., and senior music education major Sarah Stogsdill, of Shalimar, Fla.

The team looks forward to competing again next year.  “Given how talented every team member is, it did not surprise me that our team placed so well in our first attempt,” said Johnson. “If we are lucky enough to find as much talent as we had this year, I am confident we can bring back a first place trophy next year.”

About Young Harris College

Young Harris College is a private, baccalaureate degree-granting college located in the beautiful mountains of North Georgia. Founded in 1886 and historically affiliated with The United Methodist Church, Young Harris College educates, inspires and empowers students through the highest quality liberal arts education. The College currently has more than 1,200 students across five divisions—Education, Fine Arts, Humanities, Mathematics and Science, and Social and Behavioral Sciences. The historic campus in Young Harris, Ga., is currently undergoing major campus improvements to accommodate the College’s growth. Recent LEED-certified campus improvements include the 121,000-square-foot Rollins Campus Center, new residence facilities, and a 57,000-square-foot recreation and fitness center. In 2014, the College was granted active membership in NCAA Division II and remains a fierce competitor in the prestigious Peach Belt Conference. YHC is among fewer than 300 colleges and universities nationwide named to the 2015-2016 list of Colleges of Distinction. For more information, visit


Photo credit: Premier Portraits