By Scott Prater
When Capt. Stan Maczek, 1st Space Operations Squadron, first heard a local school needed help judging its seventh grade science fair, he thought, “What a perfect opportunity to get Airmen connected with the community?”
Schriever Airmen apply science during their tasks nearly every day and many are subject matter experts on specific space systems and programs, so who better to evaluate the next generation of science professionals.
“I told the folks at 1 and 7 SOPS that I’ve done this type of thing at other bases before, and it’s an easy way to give back to the community,” Maczek said. “We ended up finding seven other 1 SOPS volunteers and another from the 7 SOPS to judge the Classical Academy Science Fair Feb. 15 so I think we represented Schriever well.”
Maczek expected the event to be on the smaller side, but when the group arrived at the school, they were greeted by hundreds of participants and judges in a massive setting.
“It was a very professional atmosphere,” Maczek said. “We saw volunteers from throughout the city, military people, community leaders and a whole lot of parents.”
Master Sgt. Chris Boyd, 1 SOPS, was one of the first Schriever Airmen to volunteer and said the event was expertly organized down to the minute. To start, volunteer judges were briefed on their specific duties and provided detailed guidelines for reviewing the fair’s science projects.
“We had about 15 minutes to look at each project and another 10 minutes to talk to the student who was presenting it,” Boyd said. “Then we went over every project and assigned a grade. That way, we were able to evaluate, mentor and provide on-the-spot feedback for the students in terms of their presentation.”
Event organizers broke the judges into fields of study, based on their expertise or desire. Maczek chose the behavioral sciences field and doesn’t regret his decision.
“One project I evaluated centered on learning and how different types of fonts affect memory,” he said.
The student showed test subjects a list of words to remember. However, the lists were printed in different fonts, such as cursive, bold or Times New Roman, for example. Subjects were then tested on how many words they remembered.
“It was very interesting,” Maczek said. “One of the goals of the fair was to make sure students understood the scientific method clearly. We saw a lot of projects where students manipulated independent variables as a way to test dependent variables.”
His favorite project involved remote-controlled robots and gaming skills. As part of the project, test subjects used joysticks to remotely control a robot they could only see on a video screen. On command, the robot weaved thread through a series of pegs. The student tested people who played video games regularly and compared their performances against those who never or rarely played. As it turned out, the gamers didn’t fare any better than nongamers.”
Meanwhile, across the school’s gym, Boyd’s judging experience was quite different.
“I chose the chemistry field of study, expecting to see some outlandish projects,” he said. “But most were very safe. Nobody used dangerous chemicals, though we did get to see some interesting reactions involving colors and fabrics.”
The Schriever judges were surprised and impressed at how such a large event ran so smoothly and that the students seemed so professional in their delivery and attire.
Joining Boyd and Maczek were Capt. James Massey, 1st Lt. Jacqueline Gibson, Tech Sgt. Gaston Lara and Senior Airmen Scott Elger, Andrew Rensink and Jon Farill, all from 1 SOPS. Master Sgt. Juan Gutierrez of 7 SOPS participated as well. Those who anticipated a full day of activity got their wish. Following a busy morning of first-round evaluations, the judges gathered again in the afternoon to decide winners in each category.
“The event organizers formed us into a panel and we ranked projects from one to seven in our category,” Maczek said. “So, we really only knew who won the category we were judging. I think they pitted the category winners against each other for the overall win, but we haven’t found that out yet.”
Boyd was impressed with the entire experience.
“After we would evaluate a project, we sat down and filled out a form and that’s when students would walk up to us and shake our hands,” he said. “I think for most of the students we were indistinguishable from other military people there, but they thanked us for serving our country and it gave us more opportunity to talk with them. Ultimately, I think it was a great way to give something back to the community and promote a positive image of the Air Force.”
Science fair director Candus Muir thanked the Schriever volunteers and hopes to see many of them again for next year’s event.
“I am grateful that my students have the opportunity to interact with military members,” she said. “Those who serve our country with honor are role models for our young people.”