Sheina Senat enrolled at Valencia so she could study at her own pace. Although she wants to be a cardiologist, she also became a college quiz bowl champion.
In the mostly male, mostly white world of college quiz bowl, Sheina Senat stands out. Not just because she’s a woman of color — but because she’s captain of Valencia College’s winning quiz bowl team and one of the top community college quiz bowl players in Florida, if not the nation.
Which is why all eyes were on Sheina and her fellow Valencia Brain Bowl team members in February 2020, when Valencia College hosted the national championship of community college quiz bowl — also known as the National Academic Quiz Tournaments Community College Championship Tournament. And, to perhaps no one’s surprise, Valencia’s Brain Bowl team won its ninth national championship, beating their rivals from Chipola College (from Marianna, Fla.) by a score of 260-210.
For those unfamiliar with college quiz bowl, teams of four students compete to answer questions in every academic discipline: literature, science, history, fine arts, social science, and popular culture. More than 80 teams from 23 states began competition at sectional qualifying tournaments in January, with the best 24 competing in the CCCT, which was held at Valencia College.
Sheina and her teammates practiced six hours each week and spent a lot of their free time reading and preparing for tournaments. And their hard work paid off. Sheina was the third-highest scorer in the 2020 tournament — out of 94 players — and was named a First Team All-Star by NAQT. “The sad fact is that African-American women are the least represented group in quiz bowl nationwide,” says Valencia College’s quiz bowl coach, Chris Borglum. “There have been years at the Intercollegiate Tournament in April (the four-year nationals) when the only African-American women were community college students.” “I don’t think about it a lot,” said Sheina, who graduated from Orlando’s Olympia High School. “But when you survey the room at a tournament, you realize there’s not a lot of people of color — and specifically not a lot of women of color.”
Sheina, who’s now studying biomedical sciences at the University of Central Florida, plans to become a cardiologist. Although she’s a science major, she prefers to focus on literature questions when it comes to quiz bowl. “I play Brain Bowl to have fun, and I love literature, so that’s what I focus on.”
Today, her studies at UCF don’t leave her much time for college quiz bowl, but Sheina says that her classes and professors at Valencia prepared her for the transfer to UCF. “My professors gave me the confidence for my transition into UCF because the professors work hard to make sure that I succeed,” says Sheina.
And though she’s shy, her experiences at Valencia – both in class and in Brain Bowl – have helped her come out of her shell. “I never feel hesitant to ask questions when I am confused in class,” she says. “Most (of my Valencia) classes challenged me and that helped me when I took rigorous classes in my first semester at UCF.”
And for students who are new to Valencia, Sheina has some advice: “Take advantage of the resources that are on campus. Valencia students should not be afraid to use the writing or the math lab for success in classes. Students should try to participate in extracurricular activities such as Phi theta kappa and Quiz bowl. I was nervous when I first entered quiz bowl, but I don’t regret making that decision since it has led to many opportunities in my academic career. Through Quiz Bowl, I met amazing people like my teammates and Quiz bowl Coach Chris Borglum who made a great impact on my Valencia career. He taught me to be more outgoing at Valencia and motivated me to keep going when there were tiring days.”
At Valencia College, we work every day to create a level playing field for college students of all backgrounds, fashioning a college where every student can succeed. And our students continue to amaze and surprise us. Read more of their stories.