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James Lowery is the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) Exhibit Hall Operations Manager and has been volunteering for the Intel ISEF for 18 years. Below are his thoughts on his years of experience volunteering for the Intel ISEF, most recently at the Intel ISEF 2012 held in Pittsburgh this May.
I volunteer every year as the Exhibit Hall Operations Manager. In that capacity, I also work during the year leading up to Intel ISEF preparing for the event, revising/updating two operations manuals for the work in the Exhibit Hall, revising forms used in Exhibit Hall operations, and interfacing and meeting with SSP staff and managers to work on improvements for running the Exhibit Hall portion of the Intel ISEF. Also in my capacity as the Exhibit Hall Operations Manager, I serve as an ongoing member of the Intel ISEF Advisory Council. I also provide an unofficial interface with the Intel ISEF at the Alabama State Science and Engineering Fair, where I handle some of the Intel ISEF form checks and processing.
I have been volunteering at the Intel ISEF since it was held in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1994. All of my volunteer experience has been rewarding personally, and I feel that I am providing a service that helps make the Intel ISEF a good experience for all the participants (finalists, observers, accompanying adults, Grand Awards judges, Special Award Organization judges, visiting local school students and teachers, news media personnel, and the general public). Not only is the volunteering itself very rewarding, but also, through the years, the SSP staff, the other core volunteers, and many accompanying adults that return annually have become friends that I look forward to seeing and being with every year. Volunteer service helps to make the Intel ISEF a success. There are a lot of “core volunteers” who come every year to work at the Intel ISEF, and I am only a small part of that large cadre of very dedicated people.
I consider myself an amateur scientist. I have never been formally trained in science, but I have been involved in many local, state, national, and international science-related and environmental-related organizations. I am a member of nine science- and environmental-related Boards of Directors, and I am an officer on five of those Boards. I have been to Antarctica four times on tourist expeditions, and, as follow-up to those trips, I give talks about Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, its wildlife, its geology, its ice dynamics, its beauty, etc.
My wife and I were first drawn to science through taking our children to science-related activities and field trips when they were growing up. We would get interested in an aspect of science through them; they would move on to other things; but we stayed interested in those aspects of science. An example is that we took our children to local “young astronomers” meetings, and then my wife and I became interested in astronomy and became amateur astronomers even after our children were no longer very interested in astronomy. Another example is years ago one of my sons did a high school science project on constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment. I ended up turning the information from his project into a presentation that I have added to and presented to various groups over the years. In a very real sense, his science project lives on in my talks and presentations about constructed wetlands.
My advice for individuals interested in volunteering at the Intel ISEF is that you will receive personal satisfaction not often matched by volunteering at other events. Usually the Intel ISEF volunteer receives far more personal benefit than does the recipient of the volunteer activities.
Engaging in science research can impart a variety of skills—problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration and effective communication, to name a few.
In 2003, we were being recruited to head up judging at Intel ISEF, which was being held in Phoenix two years later.