E-town chemistry professor logs decade as science fair judge
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.