by Keith Beebe
KANELAND—As someone who admits to never having any luck with playing sports, Kaneland High School junior Kayley McPhee caught a glimpse of the world of high school competition when she qualified to represent Kaneland at the World Youth in Science and Engineering (WYSE) state finals in April.
And luck had nothing to do with McPhee’s inclusion, as she absolutely tore through the WYSE regional and sectional rounds of the competition.
“To me, WYSE is a way for me to get in on the high school experience of competition,” she said. “To be able to go to State for something is a huge honor, considering I never thought I’d get the opportunity to compete in a challenge of this sort.”
The WYSE, sponsored and hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a test-taking duel that pits high school teams from the state of Illinois against one another at the regional, sectional and then, finally, the state level. Each team member must select two of the seven academic areas offered: engineering graphics, chemistry, biology, English, computer science, mathematics and physics.
Those who place first at State received a $2,000 scholarship to the university’s engineering program, while those who placed second received a $1,000 scholarship.
“Although I am not interested in either the (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) or engineering, the experience was a fun way of competing in something I am good at,” McPhee said.
McPhee was offered a spot on the Kaneland WYSE team by KHS math teacher Sharon Black before the regional round, and promptly chose the biology and English portions of the event.
McPhee placed first in English and third in biology at the event, and then placed first in biology and second in English at the WYSE sectional, which was held at Northern Illinois University in March.
“In the beginning, I had no clue about the level of competition,” McPhee said. “At regionals, Kaneland was one of the strongest teams there. At sectionals, though, only the better schools ended up there, and we were competing against a lot of college preparatory and private schools with more advanced curriculum.”
McPhee didn’t medal in either of her selected categories at the state finals, but did register high scores in both areas. She said the level of competition at State was mind blowing, and that she felt it was a huge accomplishment just to make it to the final portion of the event.
“At State, the vast majority of schools were private, with a lot of competitors going without their team, like I did,” she said. “I suppose that I expected the more advanced challenges to be a lot harder, but I found that the tests only got a little bit more difficult as I went along.”
McPhee officially has the WYSE bug after her first run in the competition, but said she hopes to have some company the next time she competes in the event.
“Next year, I’m hoping to not just get to State, but to place there,” she said. “And I really hope that Kaneland can go as a team. All of the juniors and sophomores and freshmen we had on the team this year are very bright, and I’m sure we can go far.”