As morning dawned Saturday, Oct. 20, on the NIU Convocation Center, thousands of spectators eagerly waited to see what the third annual STEMfest would have in store.
Visitors from all over Illinois and Indiana traveled to DeKalb to witness a unique experience of science, technology, engineering and mathematics under one roof.
STEMfest continues to grow from when the program started in 2010. More than 400 NIU student and faculty volunteers from 40 different departments participated in the event, which attracted 3,000 people in the first year and welcomed 4,000 last year.
This year, more than 5,100 people attended – a 30 percent increase.
By popular demand, STEMfest brought back favorite exhibits such as the robotics challenges, Laser Lunacy, Kishwaukee Community Hospital’s health demonstrations, the Haunted Physics Lab and cow eyeball dissections.
The Midwest Museum of Natural History also returned with its bone-and-fossil collection and creepy petting zoo, bringing live animals to the Convocation Center so children could pet animals that they wouldn’t normally encounter at an regular petting zoo.
An Illinois representative from PBS LearningMedia came to STEMfest for the first time this year and had activities for students of young ages. STEMfest also added a book fair with books about science, science fiction and engineering.
STEMfest 2012 added a twist to the competition for robot builders. This year, builders had to make a robots that could shoot basketballs into the hoop. Jeremy Benson, a STEM Outreach associate, compared the robots shooting at different spots on the court to a game of “horse.”
Pati Sievert, director of NIU’s STEM Outreach, thought that STEMfest went well and benefited from great interest in the region.
“We had a professor from Valparaiso University travel three hours to come to STEMfest this year,” Sievert said. “A principal from DePue, Ill., found out about STEMfest one week prior and was able to bring two buses full with about 60 students.”
“We mostly had families come in with children of all ages,” Benson added, “but we saw other college students roaming around the venue.”
Two young students named Stacey and Ashley came with their classmates from Normal, Ill. They enjoyed the Army ROTC display, the laser lab and the Haunted Physics lab the most.
NIU ROTC set up a dark room so spectators could use night vision goggles. Charles Noble, a captain in the Illinois Army National Guard and head scholarship and enrollment officer, thought that spectators were happy and that they loved the night vision goggles.
“We had about 100 parents and children try the night vision goggles, and everyone had a strong positive reaction. No one looked disappointed,” he said. “This was a recruiting event for us as well, and because we had such a great time, we plan on coming back next year.”