District 7 Engineers Volunteer as Science Fair Judges
Twelve District 7 engineers served as judges for the 59th Annual Los Angeles County Science Fair.
If you had walked the floor of the 59th Annual Los Angeles County Science Fair on April 15 through 17, you would have felt the future of science taking shape around you. You would have seen the powerful intelligence of students from 34 schools splashed on hundreds of tri-fold displays in the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center. And chances are, you would have been amazed by what you saw.
Twelve District 7 engineers were also in the West Hall, serving as judges. Over 1,000 students in Los Angeles County middle and high schools vied for recognition, medals, special awards and scholarships in 38 categories, including materials science, mathematics, physics and engineering research. The Science Fair Committee and the 200-person support staff, including judges, are all volunteers who believe strongly in developing the potential of the next generation of scientists and engineers.
“These are kids who speak like they’re Nobel laureates,” said Project Manager John Vassiliades, who has served as a judge for five years. “You would be highly impressed by how smart they are. Sometimes they put us to shame.”
As the Director of the Los Angeles Section of Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG), a fair sponsor, Vassiliades has been an ardent supporter of the Science Fair and a key player in cultivating participation among District 7 engineers.
“It’s such a worthwhile experience. I always learn a lot from the students,” said Vassiliades. “These kids are unbelievable.”
First-time judge and Senior Transportation Engineer/Project Manager John Lee agreed. “I was blown away by how much these kids knew. They had a deep understanding of their subjects,” he said. “I learned a lot about solar cells, levitation and bio fuel cells, and some of the Ph.D. judges did, too.”
Being a judge is no small task. New judges attended an instructional workshop on judging, spent several hours reviewing 30 to 40 project abstracts online and, if necessary, performed background research to be sure they understood each project’s parameters. And that’s before the fair itself even started. During the three-day event, judges evaluated each project in their category, selected the strongest, and interviewed students competing for top prizes.
The fair culminated in the Science Awards Presentation Ceremony, attended by an audience of 2,000 proud parents, public officials, teachers and volunteers. During the ceremony, PECG presented two $500 cash awards to the top male and female engineering students. Keoni Aricayos, a ninth grader at Ribet Academy, received the James E. Roberts Award for his project, “Optimal Foundation Design for Model Houses Undergoing an Earthquake.” Megan Wooley, an eighth grader at Miraleste Intermediate, received the Marilyn Jorgensen Reece Award for her project, “Under Pressure, What Bridge Holds the Most Weight with the Least Flex?”
To encourage engineers to participate as judges, Caltrans matches engineers’ mentoring time up to 40 hours each calendar year. That organizational support of mentoring is particularly important now. The economic downturn has prompted many of the fair’s corporate sponsors to cut their donations. At the same time, the number of schools and student participants has reached an all-time high, and the need for volunteers has never been greater. Many volunteers say they gain more than they give.
“I’m a father myself, and it felt good to be able to give back to the community,” said Transportation Engineer Hugo Guzman of his experience as a judge. “I really enjoyed it. Serving as a judge was very rewarding.”