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From Superior to Ekalaka and Missoula to Billings, high school students from around the state convened at the University of Montana this week for the 14th annual Academic WorldQuest. 

The two-day event, hosted by the Montana World Affairs Council, engages students in international affairs and has grown into the third-largest Academic WorldQuest program in the nation. 

Over the course of the two days, students heard speeches from the likes of Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins and former Montana senator and ambassador to China Max Baucus, and also Skyped with students from the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

They also participated in team challenges and workshops before competing in the Academic WorldQuest competition, answering 10 rounds of 10 questions relating to world issues. 

This year's categories consisted of NAFTA, the Association of Southeast Asian Countries at 50, India's bid for global power, climate change, cyber security, Saudi Arabia, great decisions, the peace-building toolkit, America's diplomats and current events. 

Montana World Affairs Council Executive Director Janet Rose says the mission of the council is to "bring the world to Montana and Montana to the world." She added that the event is important for the kids to have an opportunity to collaborate with other students and hear from inspiring individuals like Mayor Collins, a refugee from Liberia elected in November as Montana's first black mayor in more than a century.

"In Montana, we're lucky enough to be insulated from world troubles and national troubles," Rose said. "But we are also sometimes are underexposed to international issues so I feel like the programs the World Affairs Council offers fill in that void."

In the first year of the Academic WorldQuest, three teams participated. That number has since boomed and the competition now features more than 15 high schools from around the state bringing more than 160 students to UM. 

Seeing schools from rural communities represented at the event is inspiring, said Hellgate High School world history teacher Patty Hixson.

"To see small schools from Gardiner, that have graduating classes of maybe 50 or 100, it means a lot to see they're engaged and caring," said Hixson, whose teams have won in the past. "This is an important time to be connected to the world instead of divided from it."

Teams were made up of groups of four, each representing their respective school. They had 30 seconds to answer each question, getting one point for every correct response. The team with the most correct answers out of the 100 questions would be the winner. 

The competition got off to a rocky start when multiple iClickers, the remote devices used to submit answers, wouldn't register. During the delay, emcee Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney joked, "It's OK, I've seen this on Jeopardy!"

Some batteries were swapped out and the competition got rolling once more. After each question was read, library-like whispers and mumbles could be heard from the students consulting one another. 

At the completion of the first five rounds, students were given a 15-minute break and Stanford High School junior Jacob Solomon thought he and his teammates did well. 

"I feel like it went pretty solid, we each had our own special points that we studied up on," Solomon said. "So I feel pretty confident."

The competition, along with the video chat with the students from Congo, were Hans Skovlin's favorite parts of the two days. The sophomore from Hellgate shared why he thinks it's important for students to be engaged in world affairs. 

"In this day and age I think it's good to know what's going on because things change fast," Skovlin said. 

Christi Webster, a senior from Gardiner and member of the eventual winning team Gardiner 2, echoed those sentiments.

"I think it's important to widen your horizon of what your understanding is and be able to see how other people are looking at the world," Webster said. "I think it's important to understand the differences between people and learn how we can come together and work together as a world rather than individual countries."

The team from Gardiner will represent Montana at the national competition in Washington D.C. April 27-28.

At the end of his speech Monday afternoon, Collins had one request of the students. 

"I want you to keep your passion and your thirst for knowledge. Don't lose that. And spread it," Collins said. He continued, "We have to be able to get out of our bubble, help someone get out of their bubble, take that little risk."

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