Every year around December, Carol Luszcz, the director of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, calls her sister, Veda, to help with the contest. Luszcz asks Veda to take a week off from her regular job because Veda has proven herself adept at one skill crucial to the Westinghouse. She is nearly flawless in making sure the various components of each of hundreds of student entries wind up in the right folders.
The Westinghouse contest, despite its national reach and Fortune 500 connections and Nobel Prize prescience and rich scholarship awards, is really run like a family candy store. A nucleus of five full-time staff members screens and processes the entire nation's applications. They may, near the end, call in prominent scientists and academics to evaluate the applications—and Luszcz's sister to pitch in—but basically the year-round operation is small and close‐ knit.
"We work incredible hours," says Luszcz, a handsome blond woman who directed the program from the mid-1980s until she left after the 1992 contest. "I try to forget about sleeping by the time December 15 rolls around."
The Westinghouse awards have gotten more publicity than almost any other high school event, but most of that attention has been focused on the brilliant winning students and their mighty schools. Relatively little has been written about how the contest actually works. Yet a closer scrutiny makes the contest seem less intimidating for anyone—student, parent, or teacher—interested in plunging in.