ISTS Day Two: Let the judging begin!

The kids arrived in drips and drabs. Some of them arrived Wednesday night; those were the kids from out west…Portland, and Hawaii being the farthest distance. We don’t remember their being a finalist from Hawaii in all the time Intel’s been the sponsor of the Intel Science Talent Search.

Maybe because they’re really bright, or maybe because they don’t have the trappings or carry the false bravado of adulthood, but already these kids – arguably the 40 brightest young scientists in the country – are getting along like they’ve known each other for some time.

Well, in fact the advance of technology and its ubiquitous integration into their daily lives has enabled them to get to know each other…through Facebook! Stefan Muller from Port Washington, New York shared that he enjoyed getting to know his fellow finalists on-line, but that it took some calibrating once meeting face to face.

With varying degrees of trepidation the students prepared themselves for the judging. But really it wasn’t anything they could get ready for.

Dr. Andrew Yeager, director of the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at University Medical Center and The Arizona Cancer Center, heads the judging. Famous, yet modest, he always introduces himself as, “I’m Andy.” Andy admits the judges look forward to the judging as much as the students. Some judges so much so that their 15 minute sessions run long. He prides himself that this year the judging is running on time.

The judges could ask factual questions, or use a standardized test, but this is about seeing how the students think on their feet. As Andy says, “book learning is one thing, applying the knowledge is another.”

“We’re seeing how these wonderful young men and women think on their feet about complex, complicated questions, none of which of course I will be able to tell you about because we may still ask some of those in the next day of judging.”

That’s why instead we asked the finalists what kind of questions the judges asked them. For Isha Jain, it was, ‘where did the milk you drank this morning come from?’ Even though she hadn’t had any milk, she knew the judges were looking for the life cycle involved in getting the milk to the table – from the ground that grew the grass to the Guernsey cow that ate the grass and produced the cream to the creamery that turned it into milk.

Another student realized the judges had studied her personal profile when they asked her to talk about the physics of skiing. Or how about ‘what are the unique properties of water?”

Evan Mirts had this question: ‘You’re out hiking on a mountain and become stranded. Shelter, warmth, and water are not factors. You’re allowed to choose one bag of food – what would it be?

As he formulated his approach and started to speak, Evan quickly learned that selecting food such as pre-packaged military rations wouldn’t cut the mustard. Instead the judge was looking an answer that suggested a food high in fat protein, something similar to what the people indigenous to the area might have survived on.

(Evan also shared with us his voice-over talent….extemporaneously voicing a mock film trailer ‘a la Intel STS; we’re working on editing it to music and video from Intel STS and getting it posted online.)

Beyond answering judges’ questions and hanging out with each other, the 40 finalists also received a little career advice from one of their own, Intel employee number 12. The father of the microprocessor, Dr. Ted Hoff, told us he was a finalist back before they were called finalists. We think he told us he was in the 13th class, but we felt it impolite to clarify (lest he thought we were trying to calculate his age)

Hoff gave a presentation at the Intel Science Talent Search alumni dinner, and he wanted to impress upon the students that STS is just the beginning. He shared that he wasn’t the top winner in his cohort – finishing somewhere between fourth and tenth.

Hoff says the students have made a stake in the ground of having something to do with science and technology. What he wants them to know is to be flexible in terms of their career path.

“You have to make career decisions at certain points, and those can be very important, said Hoff. “Like one decision was ‘do I stay in the world of academia, or do I join this risky startup known as Intel?’ So, you imagine which chance I made, but nobody knew at that time how successful Intel would be.”

We know what choice Hoff made. And for him it was like having a hobby and getting paid to have fun. These finalists are equally passionate about where they’re going. As Andy, (that’s Dr. Yeager again) told us, “They’re going to be making tremendous contributions in science and technology.”

We’ll be posting some photos soon…

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