Servicemembers help judge district science competition

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Approximately 60 military members lent their services as judges to the District XI Regional Science and Engineering Competition, Feb. 24 at Angelo State University. The competition showcased the projects of more than 300 junior high and high school students from all over West Texas, from as far away as Del Rio, Texas, to as close as students from Central and Lake View High Schools.

"You are going to see the result of a lot of hard work," said Dr. Paul Swets, chairman of judging. The volunteers from Goodfellow joined others from the San Angelo community to judge the event. Any volunteer was eligible to judge the junior high school events, while judging the high school categories required a master's degree.

"This is a competition, not a fair," said Steve Skinner, the chairman of the event. Winners here, he said, will go on to the state level. Additionally, the top three high school projects will receive scholarships to Angelo State University. "It's amazing the effects we can have on these kids," he said.

That sentiment was shared by the military judges, like Airman 1st Class Jonathan Blythe, a 17th Comptroller Squadron Airman who volunteered to judge "mostly to help the young people embrace education." Airman Blythe expressed his admiration for these young men and women, and for their projects. "They're our future developers of new technology," he said. "Potentially, they're the future of America."

Other judges, like Master Sgt. Steven Clark, a special instruments instructor with the 312th Training Squadron, felt drawn to volunteer for different reasons. According to Sergeant Clark, SPINSTRA is "matched up pretty well for this, with our background in physics and science." This is his second year judging, in part, he said, because "you never know what you're going to see."

American Airmen weren't the only judge volunteers. The entire International Officer's Course took a day to give back to the local community as well.

"They're all pretty interesting projects," said New Zealand Air Force 1st Lt. Ian Peters, an IOC student who volunteered to judge the environmental science category. "They're all so young," he added. "Doing these scientific displays is quite impressive, really."

While Angelo State University thanked all the volunteers, Staff Sgt. Timothy Hagen, a fire instructor with the 312 TRS, said the volunteer effort was its own reward.

"Having the community see us out here, in uniform, helps them see us as part of them rather than 'just' the military," said Sergeant Hagen, who has volunteered for the event for the past four years. "The students are learning, but so are we," he added. "Everything they do here helps the future."