MISSOULA — The seconds passed slowly while the teammates came together to discuss which Middle Eastern country had been most notably weakened by Syrian unrest, according to Leon Panetta’s statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The choices were clear but not easy. Was it Saudi Arabia or Turkey? Iran or Lebanon? Time ticked away and expired. On to the next question.
More than 200 students from across Montana answered 100 questions in 10 categories on global issues Tuesday evening during the annual Academic WorldQuest competition in Missoula.
By the end of the evening, four students from Frenchtown High School had topped all others with a score of 72 percent. Billings Skyview placed second, Stevensville third and Big Sky was fourth.
Mark Johnson, founder of the World Affairs Council of Montana and the former U.S. ambassador to Senegal, launched the WorldQuest event eight years ago. Back then, it saw just three participating teams — two from Missoula and one from Seeley Lake.
Last year, however, nearly 60 teams from Montana high schools competed in the event — nearly 50 again this year — making it the third largest competition in the nation. Of the 90 national WorldQuest events, Johnson noted proudly, only Dallas and Honolulu host larger meets.
“It’s an impressive tribute to you,” Johnson told the teams before the event. “It destroys the myth, I think, that nobody cares about world affairs and global issues in Montana.”
Many of the students traveled from the far corners of the state to spend the day at the University of Montana, where they engaged in a foreign film discussion with a professor and sat with Johnson talking world affairs.
Their visit included a roundtable discussion with foreign students currently attending UM, followed by a team challenge on the Cuban missile crisis and a pizza party between late-night rounds at the WorldQuest competition.
Aimee Ryan, executive director of the World Affairs Council of Montana, and Bob Seidenschwarz, the council’s president, noted the teams in attendance, including those from Moore, one of the smallest schools at the meet.
A community of 193 people located in central Montana, Moore mustered two teams for the competition, representing the entire high school class.
“If students, or adults for that matter, don’t understand what’s going on globally, as it affects us right here in Montana, they’re missing the economic, public and social opportunities that are changing the world,” Seidenschwarz said. “It’s really about bringing the world to Montana. Everything they do will in some way have a relationship to global issues.”
The teams competed side by side, whether they represented larger schools in Missoula, Billings and Bozeman, or smaller schools from Absarokee, Geraldine, Lincoln and Drummond.
Size didn’t matter and there was only one right answer to each question. Each team had received a World Affairs Council study guide from which the questions — posed by Missoula Mayor John Engen —were gleaned.
On U.S. energy policy, Engen asked students to rank the top four sources of energy consumption in 2011 from the most consumed to the least, as listed by the Energy Information Agency.
On U.S. education competing globally, teams worked to identify the common assessment of the No Child Left Behind Act, as it was described by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in his testimony to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.
On the Middle East, they were asked what key area Arab countries in transition needed the most help in developing, according to the G-8 action on the Deauville Partnership in May 2012.
There was much at stake. The winning team would receive a trip to Washington, D.C., to compete at the national event. Each team member also stood to receive a $1,000 scholarship to UM.
By the end of the evening, the honor went to Mary Brooks, Kilah Tierney, Tanner Finney and Megan Fall of Frenchtown High School, making their adviser, Jim Stainicar, proud.
Others in the room expressed similar pride in all competing teams.
“We truly are in a global century,” Mario Schulzke, assistant vice president of marketing at UM, told competitors. “When it comes time for you guys to choose your university, I hope you chose UM. One of our goals is to educate global leaders, have them go out and make an impact on the world.”
Mike Halligan, executive director of the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, which sponsored the event, shared his own story with students, saying his service in Vietnam changed the course of his life.
Leaders, Halligan noted, take many shapes.
“Vietnam was my cultural awakening to the world, and it was a tough way to do it,” he said. “Leadership takes many directions. Nobody wants you to be clones of anyone else. We want you to take your own path.”