SCIENCE AT CITY COLLEGE --------------------- John Pazmino NYSkies Astronomy Inc www.nyskies.org email@example.com 2003 February 22
Introduction ---------- It was an innocent phonecall from a computer and transit buddy in late January 2003. The chap, Steve Kaye, teaches earth science in a public high school and helps his students enter science contests. Thru him his school wins several science prizes each year. He noted that the New York City Science and Engineering Fair is coming up and he is, like in previous years, a judge. This year the fair is at City College, his and my alma mater. This year things were a bit different. During January the Fair was accepting over 900 student projects in the stead of the usual 500 to 600. So, you see, the Fair needs, um, more judges. A lot more. And right away. He's putting in a plug for me at the Fair office banking off of my astronomy and engineering work. Is that all right with me? Well, I imagined the worse to happen is that they pass me over. OK, why not.
I'm a judge! ---------- By early February I got a call from the Fair office noting that it received my name as a candidate judge. We chatted for a longish while. I would be considered for engineering and astronomy projects to judge. The Fair convened on Sunday the 9th of February in Great Hall of City College. I have not been to the College in quite twenty-five years for lack of cause to go up that way. In my school days, the campus was rather much a junk heap, with graffiti and political posters all over the walls. The rooms were trashy, decayed, dirty. The cafeteria food was plain lousy. And the campus overlooked the riots and unrest in Harlem. As the 9th approached I get a judge's package with all sorts of papers to study. Yes, I was indeed accepted! Steve assured me to put all that stuff aside and he'll clue me in at the Fair. It came out later that the Fair office was impressed with NYSkies. They learned more about it from their check of my 'qualifications'. Hey! It's YOU, my readers and writers, who make NYSkies so important and influential an astronomy service in the City!!
Raring to go ---------- Anyway, the paperwork told me to show up at the College's faculty dining hall at 11AM on Sunday 9 February 2003. I planned to just go in, show my papers, and say 'Hi!'. Mr Kaye called me on Saturday night, quite when it was turning over to Sunday morning. It's easiest all around if we both go together early in the morning. More over, I can help with his science students to set up their exhibits in Great Hall. We arranged to convene at Kings Highway station on the BMT Brighton Beach line at, gulp, 8:30AM. Oh, please bring masking tape, felt tips, paper clips, scissors in case we need them for the displays. My kitchen clock read 12:30AM already. I trotted off of the train at Kings Highway quite on time. There in the station forecourt was Steve with eight students. They were bantering about their science work and seeing that they had all the stuff for their display. We waited a few minutes for a last kid to show up and then piled into an uptown train for the City. The day was chilly and partly sunny, about seasonal. My lighter winter jacket and scarf were sufficient. The route was a bit wrinkled from the one Steve and I took to school eons ago due to accumulated changes in services. We arrived at 145th St, IND 8th Avenue line. in quick time. I relived the cannonball effect under Central Park West.
City College ---------- Hamilton Heights around City College is much cleaner and more upscale than my last sight of it in the 1970s. Bishopcrooks lined the streets, replacing the cobraheads newly installed when I was at the school! Alexander Hamilton's house is restored. Kaye noted that the National Park Service wants to move this house into St Nicholas Park, adjoining City College, to simulate its original setting of the 1700s. The first stop, being then only 10:00, was Great Hall, the cathedral-like central salon of Shepard Hall. Kaye had to get his displays in order and to make last minute repairs. They were open for the public from 10AM thru noon; after then viewing closes for the judging. Happily, few repairs were needed, but the tape was handy for strengthening some of the displays. Great Hall was fitted with rows and rows of lunch tables, marked off in meter-long zones for the displays. Each spot had a letter- number coordinate, which each student had in his own papers from the Fair. Finding the proper spots was easy once we sussed out the sense of the numbering. In this Fair the student must exhibit posters for his project and, optionally, have litterature about the project to give to the public (but not to the judges). The posters for Mr Kaye's flock were done on foamboard. Others I saw around the Hall were on cardboard and, well, posterboard. The typical display was a tritabular, a wide center panel and flanking narrower panels angled forward.. No apparatus or specimina or tools are allowed in the exhibit; the poster can have pictures or drawings or graphics of them. Each exhibit was assigned by the Fair to a category, the ones for me to judge being, as I learned a bit later, 'Earth and space science'. The displays for Steve's students were rather handsome, well lettered, easy to understand, and neatly executed. Kaye critiqued them in his school before letting them come to the Fair. He also staged mock judging sessions in a classroom. Older students played the judges and the students went thru their skit as Kaye watched. After all was ready with the exhibits, I stood back and saw that, yes, there must be a thousand displays here! The Hall was crammed, with a meter-wide aisle between the tables! The awesome sight for me was how beautiful Great Hall is! All the windows were cleaned and repaired. They were filthy and patched with crude boards in my days. The flags did look original with no obvious renewal. The floor was new marble; the columns were dressed smooth; the chandeliers were working; the woodwork was freshly detailed. Steve noted that Great Hall is rented out for large concerts and lectures from time to time. There are no routine student events in it.
Judge's reception --------------- We left Shepard Hall by Lincoln Hall, under Great Hall. This, too, is restored with new lighting and decorated with several gargoyles from the roof of Shepard Hall. These were too damaged to safely put back on the roof; replicas are up there now. Yes, I rubbed the nose on Abe Lincoln's statue for good luck. I passed up rubbing the crotch of the statue on the street (I forget its name!) for other good luck. One fixture removed was the world's largest men's room, in the basement of Shepard Hall. I do mean largest. The restroom was something like 20 meters long by 10 wide and had, no kidding, about 200 standup fixtures arranged in soldier-like rows. It was originally the only restroom on the campus when constructed, remembering that City College was only for men back then. With all of Steve's kids ready to rumble, he and I skipped across Convent Avenue to a new facility, replacing the old athletic stadium, where the faculty dining hall is. As we entered the hall I was struck by the immense crowd! Were these teachers or parents of the students? They were, ahem, judges. four hundred seven five of them! Kaye and I mustered up and were assigned to different teams. He made sure I got all the litterature needed for the judging and showed which papers I could ignore and which to pay attention to. First things first. It was now 11:30 and we both left our houses at around 7AM. So our tummies needed some grub. We hurried to the sumptuous buffet breakfast set out for the judges. Hot and cold food, many drink choices, and we could go back for seconds.
Instructions ---------- We heard a welcome address by the head of the Science Fair and then some instructions. I was on a team of four other strangers, among whom introductions and handshakes were duly exchanged. We were three teachers, an architect, and, I, an engineer-astronomer. One female teacher was chosen up to be the chair of our team. She was a veteran of the Fair and clarified some of the instructions barked out over the PA. She also zeroed in on which papers were really important. Each of us got a list of the projects to judge, there being nine. Apparently, the 475 judges were disposed into enough teams to circulate among the -- yes, I was on the money -- quite one thousand exhibits. The routine seemed simple enough. We go to each display on our list as a unit. For five minutes we silently scrutinize the posters. The next five minutes we let the student go thru his spiel about the project. Then we allow five minutes to interrogate the student. A final five minutes is allowed to score the project and move on to the next one. For the nine projects, at twenty minutes each, we had THREE HOURS of work ahead of us! From having helped assemble Steve Kaye's exhibits, I noticed that our team's project list had what looked like serial numbers, not row and tier coordinates. What gives? The PA assured that each team will pick up a sheet correlating the serial numbers with coordinates. This I passed on to the chair, who plowed a path thru the hordes back to Great Hall. Kaye and I waved and agreed to meet in the corridor in back of Great Hall after the judging.
Judging the projects ------------------ Remember that there were some 1,000 exhibitors (less a few no- shows) and 475 judges, crushed into a Great Hall dissected into thin channels by the lunch tables. The walking was stiff and slow! Judges huddled around the displays, cutting off circulation in the aisles. Crosstalk from adjacent or opposite exhibits made for strained listening. Many exhibitors put tools, bags, coats under their tables, where they spilled into the floor to be stepped on. Marking the score sheets was hilarious! My clipboard repeatedly slapped my face as people pushed by. The lighting was erratic; the form was tricky to interpret. At each exhibit, we first looked for general compliance with the contest rules. No name of the student or school, title matches that on the project list, no human subjects or specimina, no illegal materials, full set of required features on the posters, and a dozen other points. We also looked for ease of reading; relevant pictures, graphs, charts, text; clear statement of project, methodology, studies, conclusions. There was a heavy showing of overseas exhibitors: Middle East, Orient, India, Latin America, Russia, Africa. Some wore native accessories in their clothing; some had deep speech accents of their native lands. Their projects on the whole looked every bit as worthy as any 'American' one. During the student verbal presentation we listened for general comprehension of the project; absence of canned script; use of the poster to highlight the speech; logical flow of thought. A couple exhibits were group projects, with up to three students combining their efforts. We let the group divvy up the spiel. The Q&A went well. I and the other judges asked solid questions, to learn from the exhibit or seek extension beyond it. After we finished at a project, we put a 'judged' tag on it. At this moment the student may dissemble the display and go home. This breakdown of exhibits added to the distraction and noise, as posters flopped about, kids milling at the tables, floors commandeered for wrapping the display. I can not particularize about specific exhibits because the judging is anonymous and the Fair continues in March to a second round at Brooklyn Marriott hotel. I can say that for me both the best of the lot and the worse of the lot were astronomy projects. We went from the one exhibit to the next, often taking wrong turns in the maze and at times getting separated. I asked that the chair may announce the next display by coordinate so if we broke apart we would assemble at that exhibit anyway. She thought that was clever and straight away took up the idea. The PA repeatedly called out for a this or that team chair to fetch a wayward member! It was getting sticky and warm. I was going to check my coat before going to Great Hall but the lines were just too long. I tied the coat by its sleeves around my waist, forming a sort of skirt, as was commonly done in my college years. Others of my team carried or wore their coats.
Tallying the scores ----------------- After a bit less than three hours, by 3PM, we returned to the faculty dining hall to tote up our scores. The time for judging extended to 4PM and there were still lots of teams roving thru Great Hall when we finished. Each of us scored separately and independently for each project. Now we combined the scores. This was nothing so much as simple arithmetic, for which I loaned my scientific calculette to the person doing the tally. Why, she asked, did I have one with me? I be the engineer. As the numbers fell out, my assessment of the projects was in line with that of the veteran judges, so I guess I did right by the students. The judging and jostling got the better of us and the Fair office knew it. It had for us a buffet lunch! I took my time for lunch, filling up with seconds.
All done ------ Steve Kaye instructed his kids to gather after the judging in the corridor behind Great Hall so we all go home in one group. He warned that if anyone leaves early on his own, he must tell an other kid so we won't have a lost soul to look for. I met up with Steve and six of his students. Four went home early, after duly leaving word with the remaining ones. The ride home on the IND and BMT was relaxing; we were finally sitting down! We reviewed the day, with Mr Kaye advising his kids how to improve the exhibits for Brooklyn if they were winners today. He and I discussed a trip for his students to the Einstein exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History; this is tentative for the spring intersession.