In the months preceding their annual events, planners for the 2012 Rutgers University and Monmouth University junior science symposiums had every reason to be concerned.

The planners' concern had to do with numbers.

In 2011, nine Picatinny scientists and engineers had provided critical support to the Monmouth Junior Science Symposium by taking the time to review 65 papers submitted by budding scientists from high schools in southern New Jersey.

While Picatinny personnel did not review papers there in 2011, the Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) had committed to support the Northern New Jersey Science and Humanities Symposium at Rutgers in 2012.

"It was a banner year for papers submitted," said Doug Wong, an ARDEC engineer assigned to Project Manager Maneuver Ammunition Systems. For 2012, students at both symposiums submitted 30 percent more papers than the previous year.

Representatives from both symposiums told Wong that they were concerned that they would "steal" from the small pool of Picatinny reviewers and that one or both symposiums would fall short of meeting the total demand of 192 papers, each requiring a minimum of two reviews.

Grading high school symposium papers is not child's play, as a sampling of paper titles suggests: "The Effects of Exogenous NAD on Sirtuin-3 in Apoptosis" or, "Tamoxifen: A Novel Approach for the Treatment of Estrogen Receptor Negative Cancer."

Reviews are completed by personnel, mostly from government laboratories and university and high school faculties. Reviewing takes generally an hour, said Wong, who says that it's "real work." Notably, said Wong, "the work is strictly volunteer."

So when Wong told planners, "We can do this. If we do this right, we'll have more people for both symposiums." He had reason to believe things would work out.

A Perfect Union

Wong had been supporting the Monmouth Junior Science Symposium since he worked at Fort Monmouth. In addition to reviewing papers, he has been a judge, panel moderator, master of ceremonies and a mentor to students in public speaking and presentation skills.

Wong said his first foray into reviewing papers was not as interesting as he had expected it to be. He found that it was hard work. Later, however, he received feedback from the student and the teacher saying that the review really helped.

"That was the hook," said Wong. The letter helped him understand why the reviews are important to students.

"For students it's an ongoing saga," said Wong. Most students who submit their first papers are freshman and sophomores. "More than likely, they are writing a paper to learn, and then get feedback. They want to learn because by their senior year they want a good paper that will help them get into college."

Students know that university admissions offices look at a lot of candidates who have perfect SAT scores, so successful papers are a discriminator that will help with admissions.

"Whatever they learn they take to heart," Wong said of the students.

Wong continued supporting the Monmouth symposium as the sole Picatinny representative during his first year at Picatinny in 2007. In the following years he was part of the core group of supporters that by 2011 had grown to nine.

After the 2008 symposium he met Ed Petersen, a retired Army colonel. He now leads the Defense Ordnance Technology Consortium's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Outreach office, which coordinates support from eCYBERMISSION, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology Robotics and the Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.

"He always seeks to leverage any opportunity possible," Wong said of Petersen, who attended MJSS in 2009 and got him in touch with more scientists and engineers. Peterson also introduced Wong to former ARDEC Director Joseph Lannon, who attended the MJSS in 2010 as a guest speaker.

Attendance by key Government leaders, like the Director, raises awareness, said Wong. That sparks interest and more volunteers. Current ARDEC Director Gerardo Melendez continues to represent ARDEC at MJSS after Lannon retired.

Wong didn't know it at the time, but in August of 2011, Rutgers contacted the ARDEC Human Resources and Capital Management Office requesting the support of paper reviewers, moderators and judges, according to Pota Kripotos, management analyst with the HCMO.

As they considered how to support the request, the HCMO met with ARDEC Chief of Staff, Panagiotis "Pete" Glikerdas. Glikerdas suggested they talk to Wong.

"That was when the pieces came together," said Kripotos. "Doug had the baton with the MJSS and he had experience with symposiums."

"It was like chocolate and peanut butter," said Wong who took on the role of coordinator for both symposiums. He needed the HCMO because they offered an infrastructure and administrative support. Having been involved in helping to organize nine people was one thing, but supporting both symposiums would take it to another level, he explained.

Small Window

On Jan. 12th, Wong sent a message to distribution list of scientists and engineers (S&E) that had a list of paper titles and included a plea for volunteers to "pace yourselves" and review no more than three papers starting when the papers were to be received on Jan. 9.

To Wong, having the paper titles in the message was key based on his beliefs about ARDEC engineers.

"Most of the engineers take pride in their work and they are looking to learn," said Wong. The complexity of the papers in topics related to their own areas of interest, either professional or personal, draws their interest.

If someone responded that they would like to grade a paper that interested them, the HCMO would ask that they grade one or two more in a related scientific field. "That's the deal," said Wong.

Not long after the message went out, 37 reviewers had volunteered to review 188 papers.

On Jan. 9, ARDEC received the papers for both symposiums. They had to submit the reviews accompanied by forms the judges fill out on Jan. 19 for MJSS and on Jan. 24 for Rutgers.

Wong said that what made it possible to review the papers in a short span of time was a shared network drive that contained forms, papers, abstracts and various lists. The drive was set up with access controls that allowed scientists to access their papers and forms and to submit their reviews. The filing system also allowed HCMO to organize the reviews for proper submission back to their symposiums.

"Without the shared drive, I don't know how we could have handled that many documents," said Kripotos.

Wong then mentored first time reviewers, who sometimes expect that reviewing student papers would be conducted with kid gloves.

"They may think the paper has a good idea but the approach the student took was wrong," Wong gave as an example. The scientist or engineer would then inform them as to what they should do. "Say that!" Wong exclaimed.

"Some S&Es may disagree with a student, and would have to do their own research to back up why they disagree." Some have found out during the research that the student was right, said Wong.

At the Rutgers symposium March 19-20, Munitions Engineering Technology Center Director John Hedderich and Petersen were luncheon speakers.

Personnel from the nanotechnology lab set up a display, and Steve Liss, who in 1986 was a student presenter at the Rutgers symposium, served as a judge.

At the MJSS March 29 and 30, Melendez gave introductory remarks at its banquet and Wong served as moderator March 30.

Petersen and Shahram Dabiri, also from the STEM office, set up a display with a questionnaire designed to help students determine their career paths at the banquet.

Wong said that he doesn't expect to change much next time around. "The people who have done this usually want to do it again," he said. "What they really want to know is did they make a difference and the answer is, 'yes.' "

"We want to foster engineers to be like us, actually--better than us. One way or the other we need folks like that," said Wong.

Did you Know?

The Junior Science and Humanities Symposium is sponsored by the research arm of the Department of Defense.

It is administered in cooperation with nationwide colleges and universities.

JSHS aims to prepare students to contribute as future scientists and engineers--conducting STEM research on behalf of or directly for the Department of Defense, federal research laboratories, or for advancing the nation's scientific progress.

Page last updated Thu April 26th, 2012 at 00:00