The Experience > Testimonials

Alumni Testimonials


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K20Connect Blog from USAD Board Member, Dr. Pam Lloyd

USAD Coach in the News 

Decathlete Ravi Hudson

I participated on the Academic Decathlon team at Woodcreek Highs School in Roseville, California.  I was on the team for two to three years before I graduated in 1998.  Just before graduation, our team had the honor of participating in the California state Academic Decathlon championship in Pomona, California.  Our team was led by our teacher and mentor, Anthony Davis.  It is difficult to put into words what I gained from the experience.  I know that much of my work ethic, interpersonal skills, professional skills, and ability to think critically came from my years on that team.  My experience on the Academic Decathlon team at my high school provided me with a global perspective that few other experiences at that time would provide.  This perspective is the most valuable gift I received from participating in this program.  It taught me the rewards of hard work, and also the lessons of failure.  I learned about geopolitical issues and how to make eye contact during a professional interview.  I learned how to buckle down and study for difficult exams like the math portion and how to find my voice and articulate my point of view in the speech event.  The broad range of learning and experience the USAD program provided me launched me down a life that has been full of learning, perspective-shifting, and hard work.  I am currently a doctoral student of nurse anesthesia at the University of Southern California and a wife and mother to two beautiful children.  I’m so grateful for the values I gained through my USAD experience – I know it’s part of how I got here!

Kieran Meltvedt Shamash, MSN, RN, Culver City, CA

Woodcreek High School (1995-1998)

Academic Decathlon was one of my most formative high school experiences. The positive ripple effect continues to spread twenty-plus years later. Academic Decathlon fostered a thirst for knowledge deep and wide, as well as an aptitude for critical thinking, study skills, and a work ethic that would continue to serve me after high school through college, law school, and beyond. I also played high school sports, and appreciated the lessons learned and the friendships made on the court, track, and field, but the sheer intensity and time commitment of Academic Decathlon practices, as well as the small group size, really engendered a tight-knit family feel beyond anything else I'd experienced. I actually made friendships through Academic Decathlon that have lasted to this day. The pinnacle for me was making it to the California State Academic Decathlon Championships my senior year - it was so amazing to see all our hard work pay off in that way. I would recommend USAD to anyone. The life skills and knowledge gained are well worth the effort, and in fact, the mental blood, sweat, and a few actual tears were an important part of the growth process. I hope my own children will have a chance to experience it themselves one day.

Jody (Hausman) Vakili

Woodcreek High School Academic Decathlon Team (1995-1998)

Participation in Academic Decathlon was a major formative experience, which I credit for many of my successes. Decathlon proved to be an overall challenge that served as an impetus for not only my intellectual development but also for the development of my social and leadership skills. Through decathlon I found myself studying challenging texts and struggling to retain as much as information as possible in multiple interdisciplinary subjects. I was forced to hone my writing skills and to learn how to think quickly and speak eloquently for interview and impromptu speech. 
Coming from an “LOL” state from a team that was struggling to survive gave me added impetus to dive into decathlon. As Captain my junior and senior years decathlon was my baby, decathlon was my home. Decathlon was also a harsh teacher forcing me to constantly revise my motivation, leadership, and studying techniques for my peers and myself. Today I am a freshman at Princeton University who will potentially major in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, East Asian Studies, or Sociology. After college I hope to do volunteer work possibly through the Peace Corps or Princeton in Asia and eventually obtain a masters in either International Relations or Public Policy. Someday I hope to work either in the state department or in the non-profit sector.

Nicholas A. Pang Hilo High School Hawaii (2007-2011)

Dear Dave Heckman (Maine State Director), 

Thanks so much for your kind words about Susan's essay!  I will let her know. I am happy to help and will be delighted to continue proctoring in the future. 
  Academic Decathlon has meant so much to Susan and I will be happy to volunteer my time to be sure other students continue to have this opportunity. I don't know if you have heard but Susan was admitted early action to Yale and just  received "likely letter" from Brown.  She is also very interested in Pomona out in California (she hasn't heard from them yet).  She isn't sure where she will go at this point, but it is nice to have choices! 
The reason I mentioned where Susan was accepted is that both she and I are quite certain that being deeply involved in Academic Decathlon played a significant role in her being accepted at such competitive schools.  It is such a fabulous program! Thank you for all you do for all of these wonderful Decathletes!!!  

Helen Rundell, Decathlete Parent, Maine

 I am currently finishing up my freshman year of college at the University of Idaho in Moscow, ID. I am majoring in Ecology and Conservation Biology with a minor in Spanish.
I am often reminded of the impact AcaDeca has had on my life. There are many times when I am sitting in class when a historical event, person, or artist is mentioned and I recognize them due to the studying I did in AcaDeca. I got high compliments on the interview I gave in order to become a member of a service team that traveled to Ecuador this winter. I attribute my love of biology and my focus of study today upon the influence that the topic of Latin America and Evolutionary Biology had on me during my sophomore year of high school.
These are definitive, concrete examples; however, the real impact that AcaDeca had on my life is much larger than I a few sentences can portray. How do you express a love of interdisciplinary learning, an appreciation of art, curiosity...?

Brita Olson, Sandpoint High School, Idaho, 2007-2011

 I attended the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, CT. I spent four years earning a bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a commission as an officer in our nation's Coast Guard, graduating 11th in my class of 220 in 2008. I am currently stationed in Pensacola, Florida as a Lieutenant Junior Grade completing helicopter flight training.  I am on schedule to finish two years of intense training and receive my pilot's wings, and then continue on to Coast Guard Air Station Houston to perform the Coast Guard's missions of search and rescue and maritime law enforcement.   

Brian W. Seekatz, Canyon Del Oro High School, 2004, Arizona

 Arizona Academic Decathlon is the single most contributing factor to the success I have had in high school, college, and my career.
  I can tell you countless stories of how my training in Academic Decathlon prepared me for college and flight school in a way that high school and college never could.  Flight training is an expensive venture.  Academic Decathlon taught me how to study large quantities of information in a short period of time so my cockpit time is productive.  I am a commissioned officer and good public speaking is a big part of leadership.  The speech and interview events helped me to develop these skills early and to feel comfortable addressing large groups.
Chris Yetman, the coach of the Canyon Del Oro High School Academic Decathlon team, and I have remained friends even after my final assignment was turned in years ago. Through Academic Decathlon, Mr. Yetman gave my fellow decathletes and I a love for learning and the ability to consume and retain information at a level that is scarce today. 

Brian W. Seekatz, LTJG USCG, Canyon Del Oro High School, 2004, Arizona

I would not have become a teacher without Academic Decathlon.  I started coaching in 1997, while a junior at Minnesota State University, Mankato.  During my senior year, I decided to go ahead and graduate with a double major in finance and management and a minor in economics, but would go on to get a master's degree in teaching. 
In 2001, I earned a Master of Arts in Teaching Business Education degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato. I began teaching at Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial in January of 2003. 
I would not trade my experiences in Acadec for anything.  I have developed many close lifelong relationships with team members. Acadec is the most enjoyable and rewarding part of my job. 
2006 Minnesota Academic Coach of the Year, 2009 Minnesota Economic Educator of the Year, 2011

Billy James
Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial High School, Minnesota, KEYC-TV Golden Apple Award Winner, Team Member 1994-95, Coach 1997-Present

 Academic Decathlon is a lot like finishing a puzzle. In its simplest form it is composed of many pieces – prep, tests, speech, interview – that need to be tackled singularly. When I first joined AcaDec, I attempted to employ puzzle solving techniques. So naturally, I looked at the completed picture and instead of just starting with any random subject, I created my border touching all the various topics covered.  Yet, it wasn't enough. I wanted to find the easiest way to ‘get the job done’. However, it wasn't until my second semester into the program that I understood that it wasn't simply the picture on the box that I was striving for; it was the process that was the most rewarding.  My AcaDec team was like a family to me. Academic Decathlon allows you to find YOUR best way to learn and understand the material. It advocates personal responsibility. Above all, after 3 years in the program I took away more than just facts and figures; it is the experiences and the memories we made that will stay with me.

Amy He, valedictorian of Cesar Chavez HS Class of 2009; Top Scoring Student in Arizona Academic Decathlon Region II

 When I was chosen to be on our school's first official Academic Decathlon team in 1982, I had no notion of how the experience would affect my future. Schoolwork had always been easy for me, and I managed to get good grades without much effort. I soon realized that my academic performance meant something to others--my teammates, coach, and more importantly, to my entire school. 
Theodore Roosevelt High School had an undeservedly "bad" reputation as a tough school, probably because of our diverse student body and the low socioeconomic status of the majority of students. We were the underdogs. All of a sudden, my study habits became training for a battle. It was more bonding, more intense than any athletic competition. 
When we won the Fresno County competition, the excitement and pride in academic achievement was shared by our entire school. Kids we'd never spoken to would walk up and thank us. The boost in self-esteem that win gave our students and faculty was priceless.

 Catherine Pilibos JD, DC, Theodore Roosevelt High School, Fresno, CA, 1982

Personally, the study habits I developed during the Decathlon served me well in my subsequent studies in college and graduate school. Waiting until the last minute to cram for a test doesn't work in law school, so I was lucky that the Decathlon forced me to develop a study schedule.
After working as an attorney for over 10 years, I decided to go back to school for a degree in chiropractic. The academic load in chiropractic school is incredibly rigorous, worse than law school, but it was manageable for me because of those basic Decathlon study habits. As a doctor, I always have to keep learning and teaching my patients, and thanks to my past training with the Academic Decathlon, I will be able to do that efficiently and effectively for years to come.   

“Cat” Pilibos, 1982 Theodore Roosevelt High School Academic Decathlon Team

Academic Decathlon has provided me with focus, with inspiration, with friends, with culture.  I don't know where I'd be without what I've learned from Decathlon, most of which transcends the curricula themselves.

Anuraag Girdhar, Waukesha West High School, WI

Academic Decathlon provided me with the tools I needed for academic success. Not only did my performance in AcDec improve, my performance in school improved immensely as well.

Brad Stieber, Marathon High School, WI

Learning how to study is only half of what Academic Decathlon is about. The other half is about learning to make connections with teammates and having fun doing it.

Tanner Rasmussen, McFarland High School, WI

 My first two years of high school were a disaster. I had a huge ego that made me believe that I was smarter than everyone else. This led me to fail Biology my freshman year, and fail Chemistry and Algebra 2 my sophomore year.
I knew about Academic Decathlon because I'd always had always been a part of the program for a week or two before quitting. At the end of my sophomore year I decided I was going to join decathlon and get my life back on track.
AcaDec gave me the discipline to get my work done for classes, the study skills needed to study efficiently for these classes and the confidence I needed to be socially acceptable. Our school got 3rd place at State that year. I studied over the summer, and my senior year I had the best grades in my four years. My team won State, and we went on to get second at Nationals! All of this experience gave me plenty of information for college essays, and thanks to all of the various skills I've gotten from AcaDec, I'm now at Loyola University in New Orleans due to a scholarship from the school for academic excellence. AcaDec changed me from an at risk student who was on the path to dropping out, and put me on the fast track to college and everything that comes with it!

Tad WaltersDobie High School, Houston, Texas 2009-10, 2010-11

I am currently attending University of Hawaii, Manoa in Honolulu. I am majoring in Political Science, specializing in International Relations & Policy, with a minor in French Language.
Academic Decathlon changed my life. Not only did I meet people I never would have met before, I grew incredibly close with them. I learned how to better network with people and I gained the confidence to approach strangers and ask them if they wanted to participate in an activity they had never heard of.
After creating my own team my Sophomore year, I learned the many challenges that came with a leadership position. I also learned what it really felt like to be proud of something after seeing all of my new teammates improve so much over the season.  During my two years as captain, my favorite part was not my own success, but that of my teammates. The feeling you get when you see the excitement in their faces when they win a medal is pure bliss. I am completely honored to be considered part of my team.

Ashley Branch, Lakeville High School, Minnesota, 2008-2010

"That was the highlight of my high school career,” "The whole school got a boost. I had students coming up to me saying, 'I'm proud of you.’ Academic Decathlon experience affirmed a solid work ethic ."You really figured out, that it paid off to set a goal and study hard.”

Dr. Sonya Pettus Williams, Anesthesiologist, Theodore Roosevelt High School, Fresno, CA, 1982

 Being in Academic Decathlon made my senior year in high school the best year of my life. I love my fellow decathletes, and am grateful for the friends that I made in the process. My decathlon coach continues to be a role model in  my life.
I am currently at UC Davis working on a double major in English and History and I plan to go to graduate school for history. I am hoping to get a masters degree and then hopefully a PhD in History with emphasis on the enlightenment and the French revolution. 
Academic Decathlon changed my life and it has been an honor to be a part of it.

Jossue Vega Bazan, Benjamin Franklin High School, Highland Park, CA, 2009

Letters to Suzanne Robers, USAD Board Member, from USAD Alumnus 

Dear Ms. Roberts:

I truly had a splendid time in Boise, and you had an important part in making my stay so wonderful. I am extremely happy that my speech was able to touch your heart, for that is the greatest reward that I couold receive.
As you are probably aware, I was not able to attend the White House ceremony because I had a track meet in Philadelphia. I felt that I could not let my teammates down. I am honored that the President mentioned me in his remarks…


The award which supported me during college helped immensely…
The decathlon in Boise was great. I remember feeling amazed at the number of students and the energy generated by the event. The team quiz sessions and the speech presentation were the most stressful and exhilarating parts of the experience. I mostly remember re-writing and practicing my speech every minute of the entire flight from DC to Boise with Sue White (our team coach and assistant principal).

Rhondee Benjamin-Johnson, MD MSHS

I competed with Shoshone High School my junior and senior years of high school. I was a married high school student, mother, and enjoyed the program. It was one of the places that I was comfortable, and felt accepted, and even felt like an asset to the program. I graduated in June 2005, and received the first IAD Special Scholarship.
This program has given me more than I can express, including written and verbal skills, and the opportunity to learn. My gratitude to this program is great, and I thank whose who helped to make my educational goals seem possible.

Davis Engman, Shoshone High School, Idaho, 2005