Science Fair Judges Elevate Competition

By Sam Charles | Monday, November 19, 2012

5th-8th grade science fair participants at McPherson were judged a group of diversely accomplished science professionals. Credit: Sam Charles

Science fairs are serious business at McPherson School, 4728 N. Wolcott Ave. But this year, an extra dose of real-world influence was added to the formula.

A panel of distinguished and diversely qualified judges lent their time to this year’s 5th-8th grade science fair. Their presence took the competition up a notch, said Kimberly Silver, president of Friends of McPherson.

“Our interest is bringing resources to the school, whether they are grants, financial support or other enrichment activities,” Silver said. “So, it was our interest in bringing some new resources and some community connections to the school.”

Judges included Jim Javenkoski, a food scientist with a PhD from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Peter LeGrand, a retired Photography professor who taught at Columbia College Chicago, Allen Sears, a high school science teacher known to host science fair-themed parties, Matt Massich, a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and Liz Bustamante, a master control engineer at WBEZ, Chicago’s National Public Radio affiliate.

The experience that each judge brings, Silver said, only adds to the quality of work presented.

“There’s a different kind of rigor that someone who’s been trained in engineering or science can bring to the science fair process that I think can elevate the approach that the judging process takes overall.

“The fact that the students know that the level of rigor is going to be higher, I think set a different kind of expectation and excitement for them than they’ve had in the past,” she said.

The various judges were brought in through word of mouth and networking tactics, Silver said.

“Most of the [judges] are people that we know or people in the network or we accessed through places where we have contacts,” she said. “For example, a friend of our is the director of external relations at Argonne National Lab and I thought ‘Why don’t I call and ask if I can get someone from Argonne to come and be a part of this?’”

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