Hill native retires after 32 years of STEM education

by Elspeth Lodge
Posted 6/3/21

After 32 years of promoting hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education to middle and high school students, the President and Executive Director of  Delaware Valley Science Fairs, Inc. (DVSF), Henry Disston, will retire as of June 30.

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Hill native retires after 32 years of STEM education

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After 32 years of promoting hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education to middle and high school students, the President and Executive Director of  Delaware Valley Science Fairs, Inc. (DVSF), Henry Disston, will retire as of June 30.

The Chestnut Hill Academy alumnus, who said he has been interested in STEM since high school, took over the DVSF after working at the Franklin Institute in many different roles, starting out as a museum educator. He parted ways with the Institute in the '90s but continued with the Fair, which was no longer associated with it.

“It is with the utmost gratitude and appreciation to the entire organization that I retire from my position with DVSF,” said Disston, who now lives in Wyndmoor, in a press release. “Over the past 32 years, I have witnessed the growth of the organization and the important role it has played in STEM education for the thousands of students who have participated in the fairs.”  

The Chairman of the Board, Paul Martino, was once a student competing at the fairs. He has first-hand experience with Disston’s leadership and how the annual program can change the lives of its participants. “I had a very competitive group,” he said, “one of the most competitive groups in the history of DVSF.”

When Martino was in 10th grade, after three years of “going at it,” he finally advanced to the International Science and Engineering Fair and won best in show. “There were five people every year who could have won it,” Martino said, “and I just remember Henry looking over and nodding at me. He knows everybody in the fair, and he knew I deserved it.”

Dick Close, now a trustee and member of the advisory board, encountered Disston for the first time when he was a teacher and his students were competing in science fairs. “I taught school for 35 years in the Souderton School District. I had students doing science research projects and competing at the Montgomery County Science Fair, then go on to DVSF, which started around 1980.”

Close witnessed Disston take over and has seen the fair grow and thrive under his leadership. Over the years he got to know Disston well. “He always, always put students first, whatever had to be done,” insisted Close.

Trustee Gerald Quill, who previously served as Chairman of the Board for 11 years, said that Disston is one of the most hard-working and conscientious people he has ever met, and he’s served on about 13 boards over the years. “We are sorry to see Henry retire,” said Quill. “Without Henry there would be no Delaware Valley Science Fair.”

As a result of Disston’s upcoming retirement, three new leadership roles have been designated within DVSF. The new Director of Operations will be Henry’s son, John Disston, and Mary Rita Bonner will be Director of Awards and Scholarships.

Retiring from Dow Chemical company after 34 years in Research and Development before joining DVSF and now replacing Disston will be Dr. Robert Solomon, longtime member of the DVSF board of trustees.

Disston will not entirely step away from DVSF. “I hope to stay involved; this is in my blood,” he said. “I'll volunteer and help do whatever has to be done ... I found working with the Franklin Institute that the best way to learn science is to do science, to do experiments, get your hands dirty a little bit ... Students are actually doing experiments, they're doing research, they're discovering different things.”

Disston said that over the years they’ve had students receive almost $4 million in scholarships from local universities, and some have gone on to careers in science and technology. “One's a manager at SpaceX,” he said. “A lot of them are now doctors and engineers ... The best way for kids to get involved in STEM is to get excited rather than memorizing facts for a test. That's kind of boring, but to sit down and do an experiment is great. What DVSF does is teach children to think and solve problems.”

For more information, visit dvsf.org or call 215-895-5840.

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