It began very simply . . .
In 1950, a dozen or so dedicated science teachers from Pasadena Unified School District, the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Archdiocese of Los Angeles got together to encourage students who had shown an interest in the fields of science, mathematics and engineering.
These dedicated individuals organized a little science event, gathered support from a few local businesses, and set up about 150 student projects in the old Armory Building, corner of Figueroa and Exposition. Thus, the California Museum of Science and Industry became a “home” for the Science Fair.
Awards and prizes were simple in those days. Ribbons and medals were given and a dinner was held for the winners.
Organizers of those early days and through the mid-60’s included folks like Stan Pearson, Pasadena USD, Dave Randolph of LAUSD, Dr. Norma Wilbur, L. A. County Office of Education, Charles Migliazzo, Sister Clarice Folich, Father Caruso of the Archdiocese, Gerald Garner, LAUSD, and Arie Korporaal, who represented the Los Angeles County Office of Education.
“We were always robbing Peter to pay Paul,” said Gerald Garner. “It was lean times in the beginning, but this was the post-Sputnik era and that brought about a renewed interest in science.”
“The Science Fair has always reflected what was going on in the world,” added Arie Korporaal.
“In the 60’s, we became concerned about the environment and a great number of the student projects reflected this concern.”
The Disco era of the 1970’s showed a slight increase of interest in science and a heightened emphasis on environmentalism with student projects numbering around 200. It was at this point that a non-profit 501 c3organization was formed and a Science Fair Advisory Committee was established. Jim Hastings became the new Science Consultant for the Los Angeles County Office of Education and, consequently, a Science Fair Committee member, assisting Arie Korporaal with Judging. A new judging criteria was set and a new scoring guide was developed by the Committee.
By the mid-80’s the Science Fair had definitely outgrown the Armory (over 400 student projects) and the California Museum of Science and Industry, but it was the Whittier Earthquake that forced the group to move—after the Armory and adjacent buildings were declared unsafe. The new home for the next fifteen years would be the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Darrell Smedley was named Science Consultant for the Los Angeles County Office of Education in the mid-90’s and served on the Science Fair Committee for over 10 years. His colleagues honored Mr. Smedley by creating a special award for a student whose work most clearly reflected the idea of “I Did It Myself”. The Darrell Smedley Award is a perpetual award at the Science Fair.
Dramatic changes for the Science Fair occurred in the 90’s. Funds for education became more difficult to obtain. Interest in working within the private sector increased, and a strong public institution/private industry partnerships evolved.
The first Science Fair Advisory Committee member representing business and industry, Ron Tognazzini of the Department of Water & Power, joined the group and would also later serve as President for some three years. Student projects increased in the 90’s (close to 800) and focused on recycling and various environmental issues.
By the year 2000, 50th Anniversary of the Los Angeles County Science & Engineering Fair, the number of projects had grown to over 850, with almost 1,000 students. Some 40 representatives of business and industry joined in support of the Fair with special student awards, scholarships and contributions to the overall operation.
Dean Gilbert joined the Los Angeles County Office of Education as the new Science Consultant. Under his direction, the Science Fair moved to the Los Angeles Convention Center, where the event operated on a grand scale.
In 2001, Russ Donnelly and Benita Horn of the Metropolitan Water District developed a Mentor Program to enable under-privileged students to participate in the Fair. Interactive Science Activities emerged in 2002 as exciting demonstrations, displays and hands-on activities, provided by various scientific organizations, were experienced by both students and visitors.
By 2004, technological advances were implemented that allowed Middle and High School students and schools to register on-line for the Science Fair, thanks to the efforts of the Educational Telecommunications Network (ETN) at the Los Angeles County Office of Education. And, in 2006, new webpages were created, allowing Science Fair judges and volunteers to register on-line. Barcodes were added to student projects, making the registration and judging process more efficient. In 2014, a special online pre-approval process was created for students planning on doing projects involving human subjects, tissues/cell lines, live vertebrate animals, hazardous materials and/or microbes. This online process has increased efficiency for the Science Research Committee in approving projects and notified teachers and students of results on an ongoing basis.
In 2010, the 60th Annual Los Angeles County Science Fair moved to the Pasadena Convention Center. Projects numbered close to 1,200 in 38 categories. The Interactive Exhibits have grown to a 2-day event, where various science organizations provide interactive activities and engaging presentations for students that are showcased for the 4,000+ student participants and visitors yearly.
2010 was also the year we became affiliated with the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, allowing us to send between 2 – 7 top students yearly to compete with student projects from over 80 countries, garnering many awards each year.
2011 brought an entirely new website to the Science Fair, designed and maintained by Anne Maben, former Vice President and webmaster. The extensive website now allows teachers and students to download all needed resources, prepare for the fair through slideshows and training videos, celebrate their accomplishments through photos and news articles and interface with our registration webpages smoothly.
As of 2013, the Los Angeles County Science & Engineering fair is now an ALL VOLUNTEER organization, with no paid employees – all Advisory Committee and Executive Board members give of their time for free. That year, Jennifer Moses was also elected our new President and the fair has to grow in stature and participants under her tutaledge. In 2015, as of result of increased teacher training, increased recruiting at under-served schools with high minority populations and the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards, we had a 26% increase in schools attending over 2014!
So, from simple beginnings, the Los Angeles County Science Fair continues to reflect the world, and we see growth and progress all around us. The one thing that has never changed, however is . . . It’s all about kids and science!