An odyssey of logistics

John Lawrence’s message from May 22, 2018

When people hear the word “odyssey,” some may remember an ancient Greek poem while others look forward to a modern minivan. However, for more than 8,500 competitors coming to Ames this week, only one odyssey matters: the Odyssey of the Mind World Finals. These young people have worked in teams all year solving open-ended problems that have more than one solution. Now they will present their creative solutions as they compete with other teams from throughout the U.S. and more than 20 other countries. Did you know?

  • About 850 teams of students will participate in the 2018 World Finals, called the largest creative problem-solving program in the world. This international educational program is designed for students from kindergarten through college. I’ll welcome them, their coaches, judges and spectators (more than 15,000 people all told) to Iowa State during the opening ceremony in Hilton Coliseum Wednesday night.
  • In addition to competition, this odyssey includes daily creativity festivals, NASA educational activities, a parade and awards.
  • The May 23-26 event is the 39th World Finals and this is the 10th time that Iowa State University and the Ames Convention & Visitors Bureau have hosted the competition. The local organizing committee includes more than 30 people, representing staff from the bureau and across campus.
  • There’s a reason this international event keeps coming back to Ames. The Iowa State/Ames partnership and our Conference Planning and Management team handle the logistics and make sure it all runs smoothly. They find appropriate campus locations for three days of simultaneous competitions in five categories, each with three or four age divisions. They coordinate transportation, housing, dining and options for other things these visitors can do while in town. They also deal with health and safety concerns.

An odyssey can involve aimless wandering and hardship. However, it also can be a fun-filled adventure packed with notable experiences. That’s what Conference Planning and Management creates, not only for Odyssey of the Mind, but also for every other competition, conference, workshop, meeting and event that the team handles throughout the year.

One more thing: I participated in the Navigating Difference workshop series last week. I highly recommend this learning opportunity for anyone who wants to better understand others with a different world view. That may involve differences in thought, age, race, culture or other dimensions of diversity. Our strategic plan identifies reaching all Iowans and particularly underserved communities with ISU Extension and Outreach programming. Navigating Difference helps improve our cultural competency by meeting us where we are and preparing us to be better listeners, communicators and educators. Professional Development will offer the workshop series again in June (Adair County) and in the fall (in Marshall, Sioux and Delaware counties). Register online. For more information, contact Gayle Coon, our Navigating Difference program coordinator, at

— John D. Lawrence
Iowa State University Vice President for Extension and Outreach

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