2016 Excellence in STEM Award Ceremony




Haleema Abbasi, a high school student, began her ScienceCAN initiative with OCSEF 2 years ago. Because of her excellent service in OCSEF, Abbasi was awarded a prestigious volunteer award, an honor given to only a select few each year. First starting off her volunteer journey in first grade with her Girl Scouts troop, she had an idea of community ingrained in her from a very young age. Now older, she has realized how blessed her life has been when she volunteers at soup kitchens and sees people who run in to get their one meal of the day, scared that they might miss their time and go hungry. Abbasi realized that in science fair, hundreds of water bottle weights are wasted after the event. To help out the community, she developed the ScienceCAN initiative. The goal of the initiative is to replace the water bottles with canned food which gets donated to food banks after science fair. She loves the idea of being able to give someone a better day and make them just a little bit happier.



Lois Weir began her volunteer journey with Orange County Science and Engineering Fair 4 years ago. After she saw an OCSEF sign saying, “volunteers needed”, she decided to join the team. Since then, she has volunteered at countless OCSEF events. One of her favorite parts about volunteering is seeing how accomplished the students are at such a young age. “It’s nice to see what 12, 13, 14 year olds are doing. I was still at Barbie dolls at the time,” Weir recalled, “So, nobody told me anything about science until I was an adult.” She is passionate for volunteering because OCSEF provides such a great opportunity for young minds to explore new ideas that could change the world, and through volunteering, she has become more confident and outgoing.



Lindsay Knadler



Maryam Tasnif Abbasi



Koren Takata



Mr. Mark Hobbs first was introduced to science fair when his son, Stephen  Hobbs, invited him to help teach his students. He then went on to become a judge at his local science fair. He immediately found a passion in science, and his favorite part of what he does is recruiting new judges. "So many people are interested in judging and helping these kids out, it's inspiring," he said. "500 people apply every year, and it's great to see so many of them." He also is a strong believer in the importance of STEM. "STEM progress isn't just for individuals, but the world as a whole," he said. " It's important to keep improving and make progress."



Mr. Stephen Hobbs



Shannon Bunch



Deba Bhattacharyya




Dr. Lori Bagai is a dentist and also a science fair judge at a local school. She started her judging career when the school first asked for her help three years ago. Dr. Bagai enjoys seeing budding scientists continue science and she hopes to bring more people to science. One of her favorite experiences about science fair is meeting face-to-face with the younger science generation.



Gary Gilbert is a category judge for the engineering section at the OC Science and Engineering Fair for the past five or six years. Mr. Gilbert is an avid engineer and he continues to judge each year because he wants to make sure engineering will always be a category in the fair. He always seeks to apply science to engineering; just like the engineering principle, Gilbert always seeks to improve and to learn constantly in order to satiate the everlasting curiosities in science.



Mr. Manny is an earth science judge at OCSEF and got involved because an employer from Chevron encouraged research and interactions with the science fair participants. Mr. Manny is also a veteran judge, starting in 1980. He believes the fair is not just about STEM or the arts, but also the individuals who participate.



Mr. Saandi works in the medicine and pharmaceutical field and has been judging at OCSEF for the past two years. He has always had the passion to help others and loves seeing young scientists at the fair. Mr. Saandi is happy to help refine the participants’ projects each year. To him, simply learning is not enough; People should continue to expand their knowledge and share what they have discovered. That is why he appreciates the fair so much; It allows people from all over Orange County to share their scientific discoveries and teach others.