Oakwood Wins Honda Academic Challenge
Adventist university team gets day of rest, captures trophy and $50,000 prize

BY MARK A. KELLNER, News Editor, Adventist Review

akwood University (OU), a Seventh-day Adventist school, captured the top prize at the nineteenth annual Honda Campus All-Star Challenge, billed as “the largest annual academic competition between the nation's leading Historically Black Colleges and Universities,” winning after sunset on March 29 in Orlando, Florida, besting a team from Alcorn State University, a land-grant institution located outside Lorman, Mississippi.

In capturing the title, OU wins a trophy, $50,000 in grant money from Honda, and the distinction of topping 64 other schools. The win, Oakwood’s first, comes 10 years after an earlier team lost in the semi-finals of the Honda Challenge. This year’s victory was “definitely” a joyous one for Rennae Elliott, chair of the communication department at Oakwood, which is based in Huntsville, Alabama.

In a telephone interview, Elliott said the five-student team was “extremely hardworking and dedicated. They’re awesome!”

EXCITED WINNERS: Team members from Oakwood University hold a trophy after winning the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge on the evening of March 29 in Orlando, Florida. Team members are flanked by Dr. John Anderson, OU vice president for academic affairs – OU, at left, and Delbert Baker, far right, OU president. Left to right: Anderson, Marcus Cooper; Sherwin Faria; Monique-Renée Pinnock; team captain Alesis Turner, team captain; team coach Rennae Elliott, Michael Vance, Jr. and Baker. [Photo: HCASC]
“We have talent everywhere on the team, and as captain I just need to know when and where to listen. This was a team effort, and without it, this win could not have been possible,” said team captain Alesis Turner, in a statement released by Honda, which sponsored the event.

Turner, a senior, is majoring in electrical engineering. He was joined on the squad by Marcus Cooper, a sophomore, who is majoring in history and pre-law; Sherwin Faria, a senior and a computer science major; Monique-Renée Pinnock, a junior, who is majoring in biochemistry; and Michael Vance, a communications and journalism major and a senior.

“We’d all been working hard for this,” Turner said in a telephone interview. “The first thing we noticed, is that we prayed our way through the whole tournament. It shows that with prayer and hard work what can be accomplished.”

Turner said he wants to combine his engineering education with a job that would “be something that helps people and helps my community.”

Keeping the Sabbath – wherein normal pursuits are set aside from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday – usually doesn’t coincide with academic competitions. Indeed, the Honda Challenge’s competitive events were held during the weekend of March 28-29 in Orlando, Florida. While most schools split their competitions between Friday and Saturday, Oakwood, which has participated in the Honda Challenge for 12 years, has always been granted time off for the Sabbath.

“That is something they have done throughout the last 12 years,” Elliott explained. “We play all of our games on Friday. They do things with the schedule in our division; we play every one and are accommodated in that way.”

OU president Delbert Baker told Adventist Review that he saw the Sabbath question as what he called “a Daniel moment. … It’s not a rebuke, but a reminder that there’s a different lifestyle out there, and the lifestyle pays.”

CONCENTRATION: Oakwood University electrical engineering major Alesis Turner, a senior at the Seventh-day Adventist Church-owned school, listens intently to a question during the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge, which was won by the Oakwood team, gaining a $50,000 grant for the school.
[Photo: HCASC]
Asked why Oakwood would receive such treatment, Elliott said, “I can only say God. God makes a way.” She noted there was a mis-calculation of the time for sunset on March 29; Honda Challenge officials had thought they could begin final competition at 6:45. When told the sun would set at 7:42 that day, the competition was postponed until the Oakwood students could participate.

According to the American Honda Motor Co. statement, “Oakwood University showcased their skills and intellect by quickly and accurately answering questions on world history, science, literature, religion, the arts, social sciences, popular culture and African-American history and culture.” Honda officials said Oakwood ecured victory by providing the answer to the final question: “For reasons yet unknown, this disease correlates with biochemical markers called human leukocyte antigens. It does not, however, involve leukocytes but myelin sheaths protecting nerve cells. Name this crippling disease of young adults.”

The prize-winning answer: “Multiple Sclerosis.”

The Honda Challenge “provides a platform for America’s best and brightest from the nation’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities to come together as competitors and connect in this amazing bonding experience,” said Marc Burt, senior manager, Office of Inclusion and Diversity, American Honda Motor Co., Inc. in a statement.

During the three-day tournament, the 64 HBCU teams of four compete in a modified round robin format. The top two teams from each of eight divisions advance to the "Sweet 16,” in a single elimination playoff. The final two teams then compete for the National Champion title in a best two out of three final series.

Along with Oakwood and Alcorn State, teams from Howard University and the Southern University-Baton Rouge also demonstrated their academic prowess by making it to the final four, Honda reported.  Honda is the founder and host of this academic challenge and provides more than $300,000 in institutional grants each year to the HBCUs that participate in the competition. 
                                                                        — with reporting and photographs from American Honda Motor Co.

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