NYCSEF: Changing the World?

Sunny Aggarwal

A Preview of the Fair

The New York City Science Engineering Fair, NYCSEF, is an annual fair held to promote STEM majors and/or people with an interest in research/exploring new, innovative ideas in society. The “liveliness” in this action event goes through a quite bit of a process in advancing from one level to another (i.e. Preliminary to Finals to the International Level). The process involves an accumulation of various kinds of mini discourse communities such as those explored by various literacy scholars (i.e. Gee, Swales, Wardle, and others) to the ultimate grandeur one: the actual event.

Such mini discourses in respective ascending order include: a research class of young, eager scientists, professors’ laboratories, the Intel ISEF Affiliated Fair SRC institution, the judging community, and NYCSEF. All of these different communities compose of the main fair event due to an aggregation of a “team effort” that is present among these people. As you will clearly see, an elaborate and diverse process takes this fair’s value as a discourse community into a whole, modern unique and specialized level that is not just apparent to me but also in the entire world.

Discourse Communities?

English majors from around the world look at these two words and responsively sigh, “What do they actually represent and what is their true value in society?” Linguistic professors and various literary scholars have studied such communities as a way to distinguish their upbringings in society from any of other conventional communities. Exemplified works from James Paul Gee (Gee, 1989) and John Swales (Swales, 1990), there are certain key elements that these unique groups represent including: a shared lexis (terminology), adequate amount of members, an original ethnic identity (i.e. you grow up and then become accepted as a full member in the community), and others. These characteristics not only specialize one group of people from another but also allow any type of interest to culminate together in different parts of the world!

One distinction that John Swales focuses upon is his discussion of a realistic and nationally known non-academic discourse community known as the Hong Kong Study Circle (HKSC)! He analyzes how there are minor variations of members in the community (80% male and 20% women) yet they are specialist dealers (hobbies of interest are done) and each one of them provides a mechanism of intercommunication demonstrated by the bi-monthly Journal and Newsletter. Exemplified by this organized method of communication and membership acceptances, discourse communities are reasoned to exist in order to extend a group’s knowledge and provide an extensive network of communication between people who have shared goals/language practice.

However, this very form of discourse community is “debunked” by James Paul Gee’s analysis. He analyzes how discourse communities are broken down by the identity of a person through his culture and how he/she was brought up in the area. Gee complements this cultural identity with the break down of discourse communities: Primary/ Secondary discourse and how primary are seen in middle-class homes and influenced by those in secondary, which are conveyed in schools and businesses. Hence, Gee introduces a new perspective into discourse communities as adaptable and changing in many ways in order to “fit” the socially needed ways.

Such perspectives are not only shown by these two literacy scholars but also demonstrated through other experts’ works such as those of Wardle (the importance of identity and authority in workplaces or discourse communities), Mirabelli (communication between waiters and waitresses), and others. With a plethora of contributing views, my study of discourse communities takes on a completely sort of direction, since it has not been reviewed and analyzed by these discourse analysts, – this annual real time fair, NYCSEF.

Lights, Camera, and Action!

How do the mini-discourses in this Fair have any value in society and what is their function as discussed by Gee and Swales? The class of the young scientists has each of a common goal of becoming successful scientists/mathematicians in the future and shares a common lexis of the established scientific procedure. The scientists utilize their aptitude of specialization for their scientific reports and presentations in working in professional scientists’ laboratories across worldwide. The professors mentor the students in a lab, a representation of a discourse-working environment. When these young scientists complete their works with them, they advance on to submit the required forms for the competition. The next “travel” step is for the scientific board to review these applications in order to prevent any mishaps of the scientific process or experimentation. Once the forms are finally reviewed, a decision is sent to the students in order to notify their acceptance to the fair.

Preparations for the boards occur and students disperse around their classrooms perfecting the terminology, neatness, and professionalism of the boards. They return to their mentor to seek any answers to any ambiguous questions they had about the project. After the diligent work in putting it together/practicing presentations, the finalized versions of them go onto the Great Hall in City College, the location of the Preliminary Rounds. A revitalized community is brought into place.

A room full of clever scientists encompasses the atmosphere and the administrative staff of NYCSEF walks around to see their great achievements. Nerve-wrecking faces appear in various students’ faces, as they are eager to win the top merits for their diligent work! Throughout the grandeur hall, presentations are heard and recited over and over to perfect every sentence and technical language to have a “perfect” impression on the judges. As soon as the judging session begins, doors shut and an aura of suspense of agitation fills the room. After the students present their projects to the judges, a great sense of relief and, most of the time, satisfaction are evident in their faces.

A common system that judges used to grade the students is based on two major factors: the presentations and the student’s lengthy (20-25 page) research paper. The paper is critiqued strongly by them since a plethora of genres can be conveyed through this technique of writing. For example, some papers may simply analyze a topic and discuss its importance in society while others might discover a new technique/method for a major world problem. Hence, through these different “intentions” of writing, a variety of genres are exposed to readers. In fact, the judges base their interests on these genres in order to analyze it better for content and style. After their impressions and grading have been completed, the eager scientists anticipate for the results to see if they are able to advance into higher-level rounds and earning higher amounts of merit.

My Own Take in the Fair

Now, one may think, “So what, all of this can be found out through virtually anywhere; what specific evidence can I provide to actually help you visualize the benefits of this discourse community? My experiences in this fair have taught me one crystal clear statement: these discourse communities are there to help us young scientists for the better of society.

Throughout High School and lower-level schools of research, I participated deeply (i.e. being able to achieve higher levels within the competition and through long hours of volunteering) in NYCSEF and have completed research in professional scientific laboratories. My group and I did science research in broader, different fields ranging from the animal science (of a thorough study of plants and bacteria) to the physical sciences (laboratory work with optics and nanotechnology). Since this research, which also took place in professional working discourse communities, has allowed me to attain a great deal of background knowledge, my group decided to advance this project and participate in various science competitions such as: New York City Science and Engineering Fair (NYCSEF), Siemens Competition, Junior Science and Humanities Symposia (JSHS), and etc.

The results were tantalizing for my teammates and me! In all of the participated competitions, we received entry into the Semi-finals. However, an exception occurred for NYCSEF, where I was able to not reach the finals round of this fair but also to the International level, known as the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). An astonishing change in experience took place for my teammates and me: ISEF was an even grandeur representation of discourse community than NYCSEF. The discourse of clever, ambitious minded scientists were diligent and intensive in not just the competition but also with their science projects. They built various structures on site to accommodate their project. The same discourse that the judges formed in NYCSEF were parallel to that of this international fair except they had much more highly skilled aptitudes in the projects’ fields (i.e. the expertise existed for a minimum of 10 years). This key factor of parallel discourses that existed in NYCSEF represented in a larger scale in ISEF amazed me and even the society.

By being able to attain all of these top prizes, our science research program coordinator was filled with joy. Since then, these achievements spoke to me throughout my life and I always remembered of how she was always the strong basis for these merits. Her notion of a strong scientific community is based on principles of determination and diligent work. Such foundations can be represented in a personal interview quote: “Being accepted means that the student had an opportunity to perform a hands on experiment and got to do science. This is the first step in learning to love science.” These fairs and long community services in this fair have allowed me to see a great lesson of this discourse community and analyze its powerful impacts a bit deeper than that of the other alumnus. Through my participation in science research and, especially, this amusing yet intense awakened me of the true realities of science to an extent in which these clever engineers, who are part of these discourses, can revolutionize society.

“Genius is 1% Inspiration, and 99% Perspiration”

Even though the students and I may not seem to be geniuses, the discourse community provides an excellent look into the reality of the future lives for us. It provides this by giving these people an opportunity of a lifetime to display their diligent efforts in an advanced level of science research. Presentation and communication between these students and professional scientists provides a rewarding professionalism experience. This speech skill leads the students into a multiple-track road in order to attain a fundamental basis for an effective work skill in any type of innovative profession (i.e. Any type of Engineer, Medical Doctor, Lawyer, and others). Also, grandeur amounts of perspiration occur from this diligent work that is placed into their beneficial project ideas such as: usage of hydrogen as an effective alternative energy resource, cancer detection agents, efficient solar cell energy alternatives, and others. As my former science research coordinator summarized well in an interview, “Judges want to know that students can speak unrehearsed about their project with maturity and with the expression that they truly understand what they did, why they did it and how their project can have a societal impact.” Such a key benefit is important in discourse communities as they provide a logical reasoning on why they exist! Even ask President Obama, who personally visited the fair in 2011: “I want you to know that you are the key to our success. You’re going to be able to find a job because there’s going to be a great advantage for the skills you’re learning. So you should all be extraordinarily proud of the work you’re doing.”

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