E-town chemistry professor logs decade as science fair judge
March 28, 2017   //   By:   //   Campus & Community, Campus and Community, Service

“There is a free meal involved,” Dick Papez quipped when asked why he continues to judge the North Museum Science and Engineering Fair, year after year.

It has been more than 10 since Papez, assistant in chemistry at Elizabethtown College, judged his first.  “I just like working with young people, which is what drew me [to Elizabethtown College] in the first place.” he said.

He also said he feels it’s important for professors to be active in the community. There are many different types of outreach, Papez said, and not everyone will be judging science fairs.

On March 22, the most recent North Museum fair took place, in Lancaster, with 135 STEM professionals from the Lancaster County area volunteering to judge the projects.

“It’s good for them, and I think it’s good for the world, too.”

Papez, who worked as an analytical chemist before coming to E-town, said he did not participate in science fairs when he was younger. “I don’t know if they had them back then. If they did, I didn’t hear about them.”

He describes his first time judging as an intimidating experience. Luckily, he said, the judges form groups, which evaluate projects in different fields of chemistry and, collectively, decide upon the ranking of the projects. Though intimidating, the experience also was quite enjoyable. He returned the next year.

Papez also participates as a judge at another science fair at Warwick High School in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

Over the years, Papez said he’s seen a variety of projects and, sometimes, there’s repetition from different schools. There’s nothing groundbreaking, but “it’s high school,” he said. “This could be their first chemistry course ever in their life.” So, just the fact that they enter a fair at all is a plus.  “Would you really expect their first effort to be something that’s going to be earthshaking?”

One area of note is the amount of gender diversity now present at science fairs. The gender shift is evident in the Chemistry Department at the College, too, he said. In fact, Papez believes the young women participating in the science fair now outnumber the young men.

“It’s good for them, and I think it’s good for the world, too.” he said.

About the Author :

Samantha Kick is a senior English professional writing major with a theatre minor. She has written and copyedited for the Etownian and assisted Distinguished College Professor and Senior Fellow Emeritus Donald Kraybill in research for his current project on the history of Eastern Mennonite University due for publication in fall 2017. Her visions for the future involve a pen, paper and the oxford comma.