Local Science Fair Judges Share Advice, Memories

Do you remember your first science fair? Your sweaty palms and quickening heartbeat as the judges peered into your baking soda volcano as dazzling faux lava bubbled up over the edge. Were you nervous, anxious about their reaction and the questions they would ask?

This year, more than a dozen College of Southern Maryland faculty and staff members offered their expertise to review exhibits and determine which Southern Maryland students dazzled them with science. For many, judging science fairs is more than a way to give back to the community, it is a chance to remember their own excitement about science and meet the next generation of scientists.


Charles County


Lee Vines, professor of biology and botany, La Plata Campus

“This is my fourth or fifth year as a judge but my first time at North Point High School. Generally, I judge the middle school section and that is always fun because the students are eager to show their knowledge. My favorite projects in the past involve plants, which is to be expected since I teach botany. Projects about pollutants’ effects on plant life seem to be fairly popular with students.”



Valerie Nyce, photographer and member of the Wicomico Scenic River Commission (WSRC), all campuses

“I’m judging on behalf of the WSRC and we look for student projects that relate to our mission – monitoring progress and working to preserve our watershed. I have served on the WSRC for more than six years and I am always surprised by how much the students actually understand about the environment and the creative solutions they come up with. Last year’s WSRC winner demonstrated her understanding of the importance of water quality and how oysters are a tremendous water filtration resource.”


Calvert County


George Spiegel, assistant professor of anatomy, physiology and microbiology, Prince Frederick Campus

“Prior to coming to CSM, I was a mentor in several 4th, 5th and 6th grade Future Scientist and Engineers of America clubs in Texas and Nebraska and served as the Western Nebraska Science Fair Judge coordinator for several years. I enjoy encouraging a continued interest in science by young students and at each fair I attend I actually learn a thing or two from the students. I love to see their enthusiasm for learning and doing science. I have seen a lot of interesting presentations but the most interesting was on how a bullet-proof vest works.”


Melanie Osterhouse, assistant professor anatomy and physiology, Prince Frederick Campus

“I remember participating in a science fair when I was a teen and I was so afraid the judges would ask me something I couldn’t answer. Now, I like helping the students practice their communication skills. When they are older, if they choose to be master’s or doctoral candidates in science, they will have to sell their research in a presentation. Being able to communicate your ideas is a vital skill for a scientist.”


St. Mary’s County


F.J. Talley, vice president and dean of CSM’s Leonardtown Campus

“For the last two years, I have presented the Sparkle Awards to students giving the most engaging presentations of their projects, and I decided to become more involved by volunteering to be a judge. While it was my first time judging, I can tell you that I always get a thrill when I see students who are so actively engaged in learning that they design and carry out their projects.”

“I did participate years ago, and once won second place for a project about gravity. A year earlier, I conducted a project on paper strip chromatography. As I reflect on my experiences in the late 1970s, the projects done by today’s students are far more sophisticated.”


Judith Osborn, professor of biology, anatomy, physiology, botany, zoology, Leonardtown Campus

“I really enjoy talking to students who express the depth of their interest and willingness to solve problems. One of my most memorable experiences was in talking to a young man whose family’s home well was contaminated with arsenic. He was searching for a way to remove the arsenic; a way that could also be used in areas like Africa where the residents don’t have the ability to invest in high-tech solutions. He was well-spoken and knowledgeable about treatments and his experiment was well-designed.”


For information on science degrees available through CSM call 301-934-7843 or 301-870-2309, Ext. 7843 for Charles County; 240-725-5499, Ext. 7843 for St. Mary’s County or 443-550-6199, Ext. 7843 for Calvert County or visit http://www.itc.csmd.edu/bio/.