TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. - Tobyhanna employees are helping increase the nation's number of scientists, mathematicians and engineers by participating in a free Web-based science, math and technology competition.

Terry Hora [Gouldsboro resident], Frank Chabala [Sterling resident] and Michael Parrent, [Duryea resident] promote the Army's eCybermission competition, serve as on-line coaches and evaluate team submissions by volunteering as ambassadors, CyberGuides and virtual judges.

So far this year, more than 2,500 complete teams have been registered.

Five years ago, students in grades six through nine started participating in the annual competition by identifying and resolving a problem in their community that is related to health and safety, arts and entertainment, sports and recreation, or the environment.

This year, the teams of three or four youth can win regional and national awards and up to $8,000 in U.S. EE Savings Bonds. The competition is open to public, private and home schools, and Department of Defense schools outside the continental United States. Adult advisors help guide the teams through the eCybermission experience.

Hora started judging packages from across the country two years ago. As a virtual judge he independently evaluates and scores about 20 mission folders on-line annually.

"I saw an article in a military publication and thought it [eCybermission] was a pretty cool idea," Hora said, remembering how he got started in the competition. "I looked around the Web site and saw some of the projects, youth and other people involved, and thought it would be interesting to get involved."

Judges have varying backgrounds and areas of expertise, and must be interested in promoting science, math and technology, according to the program's Web site. The site also explains that on average, a judge will spend one hour reviewing individual packages and an estimated 20-25 hours to review all on-line assignments during the judging period. Virtual judges can review their assigned mission folders from anywhere they have an Internet connection. This year the judging period is Feb. 23 through March 15.

Program officials assign project packages to mission folders and each judge is responsible for reading and rating the projects on a scale of 0-500 based on an established set of guidelines.
"Some of the teams get involved in local government and some perform biological studies," Hora said. "Teams include briefings, papers and Powerpoint slides as part of their package."

He recalled a team that proposed building a playground. They had met all the criteria for submission, plus submitted video evidence of going to their community zoning boards to hear testimony, he said.

Hora is one of three judges that will review a team's mission folder. Mission folders will be judged based on four diverse criteria: Application of science, math and technology; innovation, originality and creativity; benefit to the community, and team collaboration and communication.
"I volunteered again this year because I enjoyed it last time," Hora said. "There are a lot of smart, organized kids out there. Its fun to see how they think about things and then how they go about resolving the issue, experimenting to meet their theories." Hora has a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering and has worked at Tobyhanna for 23 years.

eCybermission officials described the program as 'not your standard typical science fair competition geared to the best and brightest students,' when the program started in 2002. The program was about showing that science, math and technology are a part of daily life and stimulating interest to learn more about those areas.

Chabala believes it's important to support organizations like eCybermission because "it focuses on strengthening the minds of our nation's youth, who are our future." As a CyberGuide last year, he provided online assistance to teams answering questions and providing guidance through the use of discussion forums, chat rooms and instant messaging.

While the competition is primarily math, science and technology based, Chabala has dealt with issues such as video games and hanging-out. He remembers one student who was looking for an alternative to youth hanging out on the streets in her town.

"I feel every one of us is here for a reason, each one with his or her unique talent. I provide resources and guidance to help teams make discoveries on their own," Chabala said.

CyberGuides work two 2-hour shifts each week from September to February. Weekday shifts are necessary to interact with teams who are working on their mission folders during school hours, after school and in the evening. CyberGuides are available Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST, and Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST, to help students.

"Students are mainly looking for project ideas," Chabala said. "Sometimes they want to know where to find more information about a chosen topic. It's my job to point them in the right direction. I tell them about the numerous Web sites available that can furnish a majority of the information they seek."

Chabala has extensive training and experience in information technology, including computer programming/data processing programs sponsored by the Monroe County Area Vocational Technical School. His studies include intrusion detection and risk management, firewalls, Internet protocol addressing and routing, advanced technology concepts for Web designers, JavaScript, language basics, designing programs, and programming fundamentals. He's worked at Tobyhanna for 13 years.

"I volunteer simply because I enjoy helping other people," Chabala said. "It's been a very rewarding experience and there's no better feeling you get than from helping your fellow citizen."

Ambassadors represent the "face of the Army" and promote the competition throughout the country. It's their responsibility to visit local schools to generate enthusiasm for the competition among administrators, teachers and students. Ambassadors perform their duties year-round through the use of e-mail, phone calls and meetings.


Parrent is the ambassador for several home school groups in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
He's a chemist who holds a degree in chemistry and biology with minors in math and psychology.
"When it comes to the science stuff, I'm there," said Parrent. "I think the Army has taken an intelligent, proactive approach to resolve a problem shaping up for the future."

Even though he believes home school students have a really good chance at winning, Parrent admits interest in the program isn't what he'd hoped.

"I'll continue to send announcements to let people know the program exists and how students can benefit by competing," he said. "My children are home-schooled and I encourage them to take an interest in the sciences."

As an ambassador, Parrent is prepared to talk to groups about eCybermission. The Army provides promotional materials to help get the message across to potential competitors. He has access to videos, pamphlets, pens, posters and other items.

Parrent has participated in the eCybermission program since it began and has volunteered as a CyberGuide and judge. He's worked at Tobyhanna for 16 years.

Last year, Parrent judged a team that wanted to promote recycling in their town. Another team promoted healthier food selections in the school cafeteria by sponsoring a food fair with parents and students who decided which vendor would get the next contract, he explained.

Regional first place winners and their advisors will visit Washington, D.C., in June to compete in the eCybermission National Judging and Educational Event (NJEE).

Volunteers are active duty, Reserve, National Guard and DoD civilians. For more information on the eCybermission Volunteer Program, contact the program coordinator at volunteerprogram@ecybermission.com. For additional information on the competition, visit www.ecybermission.com or contact missioncontrol@ecybermission.com.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.

About 4,400 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the C-E LCMC. Headquartered at Fort Monmouth, N.J., C-E LCMC's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16