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STEMfest amazes, intrigues learners of all ages

October 21, 2013

STEMfest 2013Saturday’s annual STEMfest provided free fun-filled activities that exposed students to science, technology, engineering and math careers.

Frisbee-throwing robots, laser labs and haunted physics labs were just a few favorites showcased at the event hosted by NIU STEM Outreach.

The fest included more than 200-hands-on exhibits, attracted nearly 5,000 spectators. Melinda Morrison from Rock Island, Ill., came with her granddaughter, Kailee Bazil.

“Kailee is eager to see the Fun with Liquid Nitrogen exhibit,” Morrison said.

Shannon Martinez, from Montgomery, Ill., brought her daughter and her Girl Scout troop along for the fun and pro-active day at the fest.

“I love the STEMfest because I have an engineering background and I want to expose my daughter to science as well,” Martinez said. “I want her to explore the hands on things she can do at a young age like building things and doing home science projects.”

“If you take a look at the kids around here they are learning, touching, exploring and having a good time,” added Tom Fenner, a parent from Milwaukee. “They are shocked and intrigued and this is setting the foundation for further education and interest in the STEM field.”

With student competitions, performances, exhibits such as the Midwest Museum of Natural History’s bone and fossil collection and a workshop that teaches how to change the sound intensity of an mp3 player or iPod, there was something for everyone to explore at the STEMfest.

STEMfest 2013“The Mobile DJ Unit from Redmoon Theater Company was a huge hit. It’s a Segue that has been retrofitted with a sound system and a bubble blower,” said Gillian King-Cargile, Outreach and Engagement communications coordinator. “At one point, the unit was circling the track while kids and adults followed behind it dancing to ‘Call Me Maybe’ in a cloud of bubbles. Redmoon appeared with MashPlant to discuss the intersections of technology and art.”

A presentation by sci-fi author Kat Falls also proved popular, King-Cargile said, as did the familiar favorites.

“Readers of all ages packed into the stage area to hear her talk about her latest book ‘Inhuman’ and then get their copies signed”, she said. “As in past years, our F.I.R.S.T. Robotics Robo Arena, the Haunted Physics Lab and laser labs were great fun. I think there was truly something great for everyone this year.”

Volunteers played a huge role in conducting the STEMfest. Many students and teachers volunteered this year to host exhibits and create a positive and enjoyable experience for everyone.

Gus Diaz, a volunteer and member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers at NIU, was excited to see all the students drop in to the Convocation Center for the fest this year. He helped out with his organization’s “nuts and bolts” exhibit and asked interesting thought-provoking questions about electrical technology to all who approached the booth.

STEMfest 2013“This is my second time participating in the STEMfest,” Diaz said, “and I must say I like the whole idea of gathering tons of exhibits to help get the kids learn about STEM.”

Eddie Ham, an elementary education volunteer, hosted a booth on air pressure using a couple of ping pong balls and the vistors’ own air pressure from blowing out against a pendulum.

Ham, who teaches a sixth-grade science class, said he believes students need practical science exposure at a young age to spark interest. STEM Outreach hosts many other programs and events for the community, including STEM Saturdays, STEM Teen Read, STEM Cafés, summer camps and more.

“It’s important for learners of all ages to understand how much of a role science, technology, engineering and math play in society today,” King-Cargile said.

“We want to open students up to the possibility of working in these important fields and to show them that a scientist isn’t some old guy in a lab coat who scribbles down formulas and equations all day. Scientists look like you and me. They work on a variety of different applications that will shape our future,” she added. “We hope that students will see something cool at STEMfest that will light a spark of curiosity that will grow into a passion to learn more. These students will be the leaders and innovators of tomorrow. We hope that we can encourage them to learn and succeed.”

by Chonce Maddox