Judith Hallinen was the Chair of the Local Arrangements Committee for Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) 2012 held this past May in Pittsburgh. The LAC is a core group of science educators and supporters of science education who assist in the organization of the Intel ISEF, including recruiting approximately 1,000 volunteer judges, 500 general volunteers, and 200 interpreters. They play a large role in the planning of Education Outreach Day and more. Below are Judith’s thoughts on volunteering for Intel ISEF 2012.
While I had been aware of Intel ISEF and supported the affiliated Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair for some time, my first real exposure was during Intel ISEF 2010 in San Jose. Approximately six months prior to the San Jose event, Pittsburgh had been selected to host Intel ISEF in 2012, 2015, and 2018. Most of my time in San Jose and at the Intel ISEF 2011 in Los Angeles, I spent learning about as many aspects of the fair as possible- by jumping in to help with all needed tasks. This firsthand knowledge was important since I served as the chair of the Pittsburgh Local Arrangements Committee. As I met with various individuals and groups in our city, I could give accurate descriptions of the tasks for which we were asking them to contribute time, expertise or other resources.
One interesting note about Intel ISEF 2012 is that most attendees are not aware of the years of planning that go into each event. Even as the Pittsburgh event was unfolding, groups of volunteers from Phoenix and Los Angeles were present, involved, and are already planning for the 2013 and 2014 Intel ISEFs in their respective cities. As Pittsburgh prepared to host this May, there was considerable excitement and interest from groups in a variety of sectors including universities, for-profit companies, non-profit organizations, business and economic development organizations, and foundations. These groups all came together to ensure that the visitors to our city had the best possible experience while they were here and they participated in multiple aspects of the fair, too!
For example, my institution, Carnegie Mellon University, supported the LAC by coordinating meetings and communication prior to Intel ISEF. During the event, we hosted tours for finalists, sponsored an award, had 44 people involved as Grand Awards judges, and also had several groups provide information and demonstrations at the Intel ISEF Expo. All of these activities are aligned with the university’s belief in supporting the next generation of professionals in science, technology and engineering fields. As I’ve interacted with the judges from Carnegie Mellon, I consistently hear about the positive experiences from Intel ISEF and how inspiring it was to talk to high school students who are so passionate about their work. In 2010 and 2011, I also served as a judge- in the Behavioral and Social Sciences category. Since I was chair of the LAC this year, I missed the opportunity to interact with finalists to learn more about their research through the interview process.
Intel ISEF enables the finalists to interact with like-minded peers through the competitive process of the fair, but also during fun events like the Pin Exchange and the social events held at Stage AE, Heinz Field and the Carnegie Science Center. It is great to see the camaraderie that develops in such a short time.
Following the Grand Award Ceremony, I saw many finalists who were in tears. A community member asked me if the tears were because students did not receive an award. As we continued to look we noticed that some of the people in tears were wearing ribbons indicating that they had received an award. I am certain that the sadness was in realizing that the phenomenon that is Intel ISEF will probably be hard to match. Even those who merely watch from the outside, as I have been privileged to do for the last three years, know that Intel ISEF is doing more than can be measured to ensure that the next generation of scientists, engineering and computer scientists will be led by this group of students who have been buoyed by this event. We look forward to hosting again in 2015!