By Jeffrey R. Keenan
WHEN STUDENTS SWARM EN MASSE…
One Student Auxiliary Officer directs traffic as part of his employment. (Photo by The Pennsylvania State University)
Put a large group of junior and senior high school students together, away from home on a university campus. Some of them might get themselves into serious trouble as they look to ‘torch a blunt’ or ‘crack a 40’. The students featured in this article are more likely to be in search of ‘Furin Subcellular Localization and Ovarian Tumor Progression’ or ‘Gammarus and the Distribution of Oomycetes Achlya and Saprol’.
Each May, for the last ten years, almost 3,000 junior and senior high school students from across the Commonwealth travel to central Pennsylvania and the sprawling campus of Penn State University located in the community of State College. Even non-football fans know of the Penn State Nittany Lions and their legendary head coach, Joe Paterno.
These particular students are presenters at the 72nd annual state meeting of the Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (PJAS).
The Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science is a statewide organization of junior and senior high school students designed to stimulate and promote interest in science among its members through the development of research projects and investigations. The PJAS constitution was approved in 1934 by the Pennsylvania Academy of Science, its parent organization. The PAS is affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Participation across the state has gone from an original group of fourteen schools in 1934 to nearly 400 in 2006.
The science projects that these students present are more detailed and complicated than the traditional ‘vinegar and baking soda volcano’ experiments seen at school science fairs. The level of sophistication involved in developing and presenting the material to a panel of judges is more difficult than the sometimes flashier ‘poster board’ science projects and displays growing in popularity in regional competitions. The two topics listed earlier are from actual student presentations in Grade 12 Biology. The 3,000 student participants represent the first place winners from ten regional competitions.
These young people are some of the finest students in the state. Many go on to the military academies. Many scholarships, prizes and grants are offered during the three day event.
One of the recent state winners, 17 year old Marc Roberge of Pittsburgh’ Central Catholic High School, was interviewed in local newspapers and on MSNBC for his experiment on how applying a simple iron to a suspect envelope can kill anthrax virus contained inside. Applications of this technique are being reviewed by the Department of Homeland Security. The categories in which the students present include Behavioral/Psychology, Biochemistry, Biology, Botany, Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth and Space, Ecology, Mathematics, Microbiology, Physics and Zoology. The presentations are oral and only overhead projections are permitted. They cannot exceed 10 minutes. All measurements in the experiments must be converted into metrics to be reflective of the scientific community. They are judged on scientific thought, experimental methods, analytical approach and presentation. Judges may question the student on his/her project for up to five minutes afterwards. This conservative approach to scientific research is sometimes in stark contrast to other presentation formats which put equal emphasis on style and substance. Many former PJAS presenters have gone on to become teachers and they have returned with their students years later.
3,000 focused, energetic and well-behaved young people populate the campus during the short break between the spring and summer terms at Penn State. Their attitudes and dispositions might have something to do with the lack of problems encountered by the University and the PJAS during the meeting. On a note as positive as the students, all of the sponsors, judges, technicians, chaperones and escorts are volunteers from their home regions. The total number of active participants at the event can sometimes exceed 4,000. Funding is provided by gifts, grants, donations and modest registration fees for schools and participating students.
So, as security and public safety professionals ponder possible negative scenarios, it might be better to switch from an ‘Animal House’ point of view to one of ‘Revenge of the Nerds’.
RUNNING MASS EVENTS TROUBLE-FREE
Like many colleges and universities Penn State looks to maximize the year-round use of its educational and athletic assets. Facilities, such as dormitories and large lecture classrooms with state-of-the-art IT, audio and video equipment, are routinely contracted to non-university organizations for training, conferences, conventions, seminars, retreats and cultural events. Athletic venues such as the natatorium are used for training camps or regional and state competitions.
The state competition of the PJAS is the largest, non-athletic event held on the main campus of Penn State in State College.
Even with well-behaved visitors, the logistics of such a visit could represent a daunting task to an organization not as well prepared as Penn State and the support departments within. Outside of other universities and colleges, only a few other types of organizations deal with such large groups coming in and out of their facilities in such a short time. Many security professionals in the hospitality industry see similar crowds who require housing, food and meeting facilities. Military induction centers routinely process large numbers of people but seldom in groups of 2,000-3,000 at a time.
The University Police at Penn State University provide all law enforcement and security services to the University Park campus. The department currently employs 46 full-time armed Police Officers, six traffic and parking officers, five police dispatcher/recorders and approximately 200 students as Auxiliary Officers and escorts. The department provides patrol services to the campus and University-owned properties 24-hours a day, 365 days a year. University Police are commissioned under the Administrative Code of 1929 and the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Law (Act 120 of 1974) and have the same authority as municipal police officers in the Commonwealth, being authorized to carry firearms and empowered to make arrests.
In addition to providing security and police services, University Police are also responsible for parking enforcement and traffic control. Paid on-campus parking is available for families who join their presenter children for a weekend away. Officers have first-aid training as Emergency Responders and provide first rescue response and fire suppression services to the campus. To increase interaction with the public, the University Police maintains a bicycle unit as well as a canine unit.
Any reportable event under the guidelines of the Cleary Act, the Campus Crime and Security Survey, is logged by police services. In the ten years of PJAS at Penn State, there have been no reportable events involving students during the state meeting.
A three to four member nursing team is maintained around the clock by PJAS at a central location near the dormitories and the student commons. Three sets of H.I.P.A.A (Health Information Portability and Accountability Act) compliant medical records are delivered by each of the regions to the nurses’sstation. Despite having good scientific training, even the brightest young person can forget the immutable laws of physics when it comes to an 18 year old running into a tree while trying to catch a Frisbee. Scrapes, bumps and bruises are not uncommon. Headaches, cramps and blisters round out the normal complaints. More serious injuries are handled at nearby Mt. Nittany Medical Center right off the Penn State campus.
The students arrive on campus the first day of the state meeting in approximately 50 buses and vans as well as hundreds of private vehicles. The traffic is coordinated with police services and representatives of PJAS. Teachers, volunteers and chaperones from each region handle the distribution of room keys, event programs, and meal cards for their own students. All people involved in the event are issued temporary paper ID cards which they must carry while on campus. The pre-programmed meal cards also serve as access cards to the dormitories where the students stay. Access to other dormitories or buildings are limited by the electronic programming put in place by the housing services department. There are volunteer chaperones on each floor of the dormitories which are sorted by sex. The event programs are 85 pages and contain detailed maps of the campus, rules and regulations, times of scheduled meetings and award ceremonies. A detailed judging rubric is also included.
The students can take meals in the student commons, with its diners and restaurants. Doors to the dormitories are programmed to alarms which alert officials if dormitory entrances or exits are propped open. Specific times for pizza deliveries and curfew are strictly enforced. At the conclusion of the three day meeting, all keys are accounted for and returned to housing services. There is a fee assessed by the university to PJAS for any lost keys and that fee in turn is passed along to the responsible region. All rooms with missing keys are re-keyed within 8 hours of the determination that a key is lost.
FROM SECURITY NIGHTMARE TO SUCCESS STORY
Penn State Conference Planner Chriss A. Schultz has worked with PJAS for the ten years the organization has used the Universities’ facilities. She is routinely present on campus for 16-20 hours each day of the three day event. Additionally, she maintains phone, mail and e-mail contact with all of the regional directors involved in the meeting in both preparation, follow through and pre-planning for the following years event.
The PJAS state staff, which oversees Judging, Special Awards and Technicians, is in communications with beepers, walkie-talkies and cell phones. State officials for the PJAS are able to quickly move around campus, visiting the buildings in which students make their presentations, using vans and utility vehicles. Each year, on a rotating basis, one of the regions serves as the host region. That region will then provide additional volunteers to help the event run smoothly.
For 2006, Region VII, which includes Pittsburgh in Allegheny County and nearby Westmoreland County, served as the host. Region VII is one of the largest in the state with 120 participating local schools. All of the regions have local sponsors or supporters. Some of the organizations offering prizes, awards or scholarship money in Region VII include the Advanced Society for Materials Science, American Chemical Society, American Nuclear Society, Bechtel Machinery, Carnegie Mellon Chapter of Sigma Xi, Carnegie Mellon Human Computer Interaction Institute, Society for Analytical Chemists, Society of Women Engineers, The Carnegie Museum of Natural Science, the Marine Corps League-Three Rivers Leatherneck Detachment #310, University of Pittsburgh Department of Biological Sciences, Westinghouse Electric Company and Westinghouse Women in Nuclear.
At the conclusion of the presentations across the campus, the judges return to the student commons where their scores of the individual presentations are submitted and calculated for awards. The awards are presented in a morning and an evening ceremony in the Eisenhower Auditorium. Located in the center of the Penn State campus, Eisenhower Auditorium boasts such shows as the national tours of Grease, The Sound of Music, Romeo and Juliet, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and Angels in America. With 2,600 seats, the auditorium is also used for concerts by both professional groups and students.
Strict ID security is in place to prevent an unauthorized presentation of an award to any student as they process to the stage. First, second and third place certificates and pins are given to winners as well as medallions for Perfect Score. As further proof of the conservative and serious nature of the competition, a dress code is enforced on awardees that prohibits hats, provocative, challenging or ‘statement’ t-shirts or sweat shirts and outlandish, bizarre or distracting hair styles. Students without proper IDs are denied awards until their sponsors can come forward to verify identity. Mischievous use of laser pointers by students is restricted.
The evening of the final day is saved for dances and socials for the students, faculty, staff and chaperones. Historically, these events are trouble-free. The morning of the third day all of the participants are gathered, keys collected and then shipped off to their own regions and home. The chaperones usually comment that the students are boisterous on the way up to Penn State and that they sleep all of the way back.
It doesn’t take much effort for public safety and security professionals to find brutal examples of problems with young people in junior and senior high schools today. Tragedies like Columbine sear a vivid image into our collective psyches. It is nice to be reminded that there are still good kids out there. Good kids who are trying very hard to succeed in a difficult world. Good kids who will someday end up changing that same world in a very positive way.
Jeffrey R. Keenan has been a volunteer advisor to PJAS Region VII (Pittsburgh/Allegheny and Westmoreland counties) for the last ten years. In that time he has been the treasurer of the region and credentials supervisor for the state award ceremony. Presently, he is the Director of Retention at Western School of Health and Business Careers -- a thousand student trade-technical college in Pittsburgh where he has been since 1989. At Western he is also the Campus Safety and Security Representative and has been the Dean of Business, Dean of Students and Program Director for both the Criminal Justice and Business Administration programs.