Eureka! NIU STEM Outreach offers new season of STEM Saturdays

STEM SaturdayInventors and innovators of tomorrow will be flocking to NIU’s DeKalb and Naperville campuses this fall for an exciting new season of STEM Saturdays, classes that give students hands-on experiences with science, technology, engineering and math.

The classes, which cover everything from robotics to virtual reality, are designed for students from age 7 to adults.

Each class takes place over two Saturdays, and each was designed by NIU’s STEM Outreach department to help students learn important STEM concepts in a fun environment. The list of classes, complete with dates, location and registration info, is available online.

STEM Saturdays use the same hands-on approach as our popular STEM Summer Camps,” says STEM Outreach Associate Jeremy Benson. “We don’t just give out information for kids to memorize. Instead, we give them tools for exploring the world they live in. That’s more useful – and more interesting, too.”

No matter the subject, the emphasis is on learning by doing, using trial and error to reach that exhilarating “eureka!” moment. In the “Science of Flight” class, for example, students will explore the physics of air travel by designing and constructing models of different flying machines. As a final exercise, students will build and launch their own rockets. Students in “Stop Motion Animation” will direct short movies, and in “Chemistry Investigations” they will cook up glow-in-the-dark slime.

This year marks the first offering of “Electronic Wearables,” in which students will decorate items of clothing with LED lights that can be programmed to react to light or sound. The class takes place on the first two Saturdays in October, which means participants will be able to incorporate their creations into their Halloween costumes. “It’s a soft introduction to electronics and coding,” says STEM Outreach Director Pati Sievert. “No special experience is required.”

Three different “STEM Divas” classes will expose young women ages 7 to 10 to the STEM fields. This popular series of classes, which STEM Outreach began offering last fall, gets female students hooked on STEM with activities like using 3D printers to make custom earrings.

STEM Divas use 3Doodlers, a hand-held technology similar to that of 3D printers, to create their own jewelry.
STEM Divas use 3Doodlers, a hand-held technology similar
to that of 3D printers, to create their own jewelry.

“We create a safe space for girls to take risks and explore STEM,” says Pettee Guerrero, the program’s founder. “Women who are currently majoring in STEM fields at NIU come to the classes to mentor the campers, which makes for a really engaging, welcoming atmosphere.”

Even the youngest little Einsteins of northern Illinois get a class.

“Stem Jr.” introduces students as young as seven to the basic concepts of engineering and design with hands-on challenges. Each student will leave with a completed project of which he or she can be proud. As with all STEM Saturday classes, parents are welcome to stay and participate, too.

“No matter what your STEM experience level is, STEM Saturdays have something for you,” Benson says. “You don’t need to have your heart set on being a scientist. You just need to be curious. STEM is everywhere and connects to almost everything.

Classes kick off Saturday, Sept. 12, and run through Saturday, Dec. 5, with a special STEM-themed holiday party for all STEM Saturdays participants and their parents Saturday, Dec. 12.

STEM Saturdays are offered through the award-winning NIU Center for P-20 Engagement. In addition to its STEM Outreach classes, camps, and events such as STEMfest and STEM Cafés, the P-20 Center directs innovative, life-long learning programs such as STEM Read, SmartSpace@NIU, the Center for Economic Education and the Regional P-20 Network for college and career readiness.

For more information, call (815) 743-0533 or

by Peter C. Baker

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