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Academic Bowl veteran starts ASU Quizbowl Club

September 27, 2011

While many are familiar with the ASU Academic Bowl, the annual quiz show competition among Arizona State University's various colleges, there are few who know about the ASU Quizbowl Club – and that's a shame, says ASU student Kenneth Lan.

Lan is something of an Academic Bowl legend, having competed in four of the previous five tournaments to ever take place at ASU. And twice he led his College of Liberal Arts and Sciences team to victory.

In fact, over the last three years, Lan has been that standout player that everyone had their eye on – the player that everyone wanted to beat.

But now as a graduate student in ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, where he is working toward a master's degree in biomedical engineering, Lan is officially out of the Academic Bowl game – as the tournament is for undergraduate students only. However, that doesn't seem to phase him much.

The ASU Quizbowl Club which he started in 2008 and managed until last spring – and still participates in – is for students of all academic levels and ages, and it makes the Academic Bowl look like a very small piece of the pie. In just three years, the club has not only made it to national competitions, but it has placed in them – a dramatic evolution thanks to the leadership of Lan, who was the club's main organizer and coach.

"I'd like to be known as the person who led ASU – not CLAS [College of Liberal Arts and Sciences], not Engineering, but all of ASU – to back-to-back Top 25 national finishes and upset wins over UCLA, Stanford and Columbia," Lan says.

Last spring, the club traveled to the 2011 National Academic Quiz Tournaments Intercollegiate Championship  in Chicago. The Division I team placed 26th and the Division II team placed 21st. The club also traveled to the 2011 Academic Competition Federation national championship in Pittsburgh and placed 23rd overall.

"Quizbowl is a very big activity," Lan says. The club practices and competes year-round, traveling all over the United States to face off against competing universities. There is no monetary reward; Lan says that camaraderie, teamwork and the glorification of academic knowledge are the key motivators for the club's members.  

Members of the club meet for two to three hours a couple nights each week to practice. According to Lan, those members who want to represent ASU at national competitions also specialize in specific subjects and will study on their own time. However, many members are just part of the club for fun.

"Many members … only attend regional tournaments," Lan says. "We also host high school tournaments regularly on a few Saturdays each semester. Members who want to compete at tournaments are asked to help staff the high school tournaments, but not everyone is required to be at any given one.

"Graduate students do tend to have less time and go to fewer tournaments, but that’s entirely voluntary," he adds.
Now as a graduate student himself, Lan is not leading the team anymore, but he still participates and helps spread the word about opportunities or academic competition at ASU and in the community.

"When I was in high school, Quizbowl didn’t even exist in the whole state of Arizona," Lan says. Now, the Quizbowl Club has become the center of a new Arizona high school competition that has grown from 10 teams and five schools to 17 teams and 8 schools in just one year. "Hopefully one day all the high schools in the state will have students involved."

Lan says the club's work is making a difference in the lives of these students.

"We have been hosting high school tournaments regularly, which gives these high school students a chance to experience being rewarded for academic knowledge and gives them one more reason to study for more than just a grade in their classes," Lan says. "If you ever moderate at a tournament, you can see the spark in these kids’ eyes when they realize they know an answer.

"I’ve personally seen some of these high school kids improve from one tournament to the next. New teams struggle at first and then find their way."  

As for the future of the ASU Quizbowl Club, Lan says this year will be centered around rebuilding due to changes in leadership and members leaving. One thing that won't change is Lan's commitment to academic competition.

"I think every university should have such opportunities available," Lan says. "Academic competition is certainly a lot closer to the very point of a university’s existence – the discovery and transmission of knowledge."

For more information on the ASU Quizbowl Club, contact the club officers at