Gwen Noda, Co-Director of the Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence, took time off to volunteer at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012 held in Pittsburgh this May. She is also serving on the Education Outreach team of the Local Arrangements Committee for Intel ISEF 2014 being held in Los Angeles. Below she describes her experience and why she feels it’s important to support competitions such as the Intel ISEF.
It isn’t a typical travel destination for me – I usually end up in places with “island” in the name – so nearly every person to whom I mentioned the trip, had a response like this:
“Wait, why are you going to Pittsburgh?”
I found myself answering them with something like “to help with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair” and while this always received favorable responses (“Oh, that’s cool!”), it is not really the answer I wanted to give. I sometimes had enough time to include statements like “students from more than 60 countries,” “more than a thousand student projects,” and “the projects are of such high caliber that they ask the judges to have PhD’s or equivalent experience,” but that’s still not enough to convey what Intel ISEF is really about.
Pittsburgh 2012 was the first time that I was able to attend Intel ISEF. The year before, when it was in Los Angeles, I helped to recruit volunteers and judges, but could not go myself. At the time I was working for a National Science Foundation-funded ocean science education collaboration between USC and UCLA and had my hands full. Intel ISEF was an event we thought our organization should support, as it focuses on student scientific research, and I became involved when we met with staff from Society for Science & the Public to see what we could do to help.
The science learning opportunities I’ve had throughout my educational career (resulting in a Masters in Biology – so far) and my science education work experience has led me to believe that it is essential for students to practice hands-on science for themselves, whether or not they go on to a career in science. I also believe that it is incredibly important to encourage and support students throughout the process of becoming scientists and engineers.
While Intel ISEF does those things, it also does much more. As part of Intel ISEF, students have the opportunity to travel, explore a new city, meet other bright, science-interested students from all over the world, and have the chance to compete for a number of scholarships and prizes. And that’s in addition to all that encouragement and support related to their science projects leading up to and during the week of Intel ISEF. I met a few Intel ISEF mentor teachers who said that some of their students had never before been out of their home state and some students had never really been out of their home city. These students may have experienced their first airplane ride, their first time away from home, their first time exploring a new city, or their first time staying in a hotel. And on top of that, they get the Intel ISEF experience. Being an avid traveler, I know what an educational experience it can be to travel and it’s important to get these students started early. If we want the next generation to help us solve some of our planet’s biggest problems, they need to see and experience those problems and meet others with whom they might collaborate.
When I travel, I take my camera with me wherever I go and I tried to document the week of Intel ISEF in order to share it with friends and family – and whoever would listen, really. I think the photos have helped express the magnitude of the week’s events. And while I will continue to try to find the right words and pictures to convey what Intel ISEF is all about, the best way to understand its impact is by participating in it in as many ways as you can.
For more information about becoming at volunteer at Intel ISEF or other SSP-supported events, visit our Volunteer webpage or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To view SSP photos from Intel ISEF 2012, visit us on Facebook.