Humans of ISSF: Dr. Jose Torres

IMSA Student and ISSF Blogger, Jodie Meng, sat down with Dr. Jose Torres, President of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy to talk about his perspective and experience planning and designing ISSF 2018.

What inspired you to get involved in planning/supporting ISSF?

 When I arrived in 2014, one of the senior persons who was here, told me, José, someone early in your career is going to come to you, knock on your door, and say, “We should host the International Student Science Fair.” That’s all she said. And I’m like, why? What is that? Eventually, somebody did. The previous director of SIR, not Dr. Kazadi, but the person before him, had been very involved with the International Student Science Fair and the network of people. When I heard about that, I said that it seems like a good thing for us to do. I wondered, why haven’t we done it? The answer was that, we are hosting ISSF, and which means that all the schools, all the teachers, all the principals, have a responsibility to buy a ticket from wherever they’re coming from to Chicago. Once they get to Chicago, they’re ours. We get to pick them up, we feed them, we take them places, and we show them a good time. We’re hosting them; they’re our guests.

I went to Melbourne for ISSF. My purpose in going was to evaluate whether IMSA should apply to host ISSF. I thought this would be really neat and IMSA could make a contribution to the organization. The next year, it was in Singapore, and we made an application, and everyone wanted us to host it. It has never been in the United States. I took to KAIST in South Korea for the 13th conference, so they could see everything we had to do. A lot of those people are the ones organizing the event for IMSA.

What impact do you hope/think ISSF will have on people who attend?

I think IMSA is an amazing academy. All these other schools are also science academies with the best of the best in their country. I think we have a contribution in the way that we are innovators, in the way that we are critical thinkers, and people love each other around here. I think we have a spirit of loving innovation and science around campus. The visitors will be exposed not only in IMSA, but also some of the culture of Chicago. Some of them have heard about IMSA for probably 10 years through ISSF. When I arrived in August, the principal of KAIST was visiting IMSA, so I had met him three years prior to going to KAIST before the ISSF that they hosted.

In terms of the program itself, because we are focusing on three of the UN sustainability goals, zero hunger, clean water, and affordable energy, we will be spreading them throughout the world. Other schools haven’t thought of taking the UN sustainable development goals as a goal for ISSF. At the last conference in Korea, I talked to them about the need to go and recruit underrepresented populations of high achieving, low-income students that may go to ISSF as well.

What’s your favorite experience working on ISSF so far?

Early in December, I had a few students do a video about their experience of ISSF. They’re taking this idea and developing the one videos for the website. Now, I’m getting involved in the finer details. I have been to three meetings this week just on ISSF. For me, it’s becoming very real. There are only a few weeks left!

What advice would you give to people who will be attending? 

Try to enjoy every minute, and get people’s contact information because you can make lifelong friendships.

Anything else you want to say about ISSF?

I’m already very proud of IMSA, and I know that I’m going to be very pleased that we have been provided the opportunity for 20+ schools to visit the United States and this institution. I think that we’re advancing the human condition this way. My hope is that as all these students, teachers principals come to IMSA, we will have a longer-term collaboration with each other to solve some of these tough problems across the globe.

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