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STEM Read: A great experience for program assistants and kids alike

April 6, 2017

Right to Left: Gillian King-Cargile, director of the STEM Read program; Hannah Carmack; and Kristin Brynteson, director of professional development for the P-20 Center.

For NIU undergrad Hannah Carmack, working with the P-20 Center has been an exciting path to job skills and personal rewards. As a STEM Read program assistant, she does work that simultaneously touches people’s lives and prepares her for a job in publishing, her career of choice.

STEM Read uses live and online programs to inspire young readers to learn more about the science, technology, engineering and math concepts in popular fiction. Participants enjoy the books on their own or with school or library groups, then connect online or meet at NIU to experience hands-on activities, presentations by NIU faculty and staff, author talks, interactive games and collaborative writing projects.

Since starting with the program last spring, Carmack has received mentorship from P-20 Center and STEM Read staff in how to handle the extensive logistics involved in making any outreach program a reality: everything from social media publicity and participant registration to day-of event management. “You never know what’s going to come up,” she says. “And it’s been good to learn how to deal with whatever flies at me without getting stressed out.”

“My favorite part, hands down, is helping with our field trips,” says Carmack. At STEM Read field trips, groups of students come to NIU for a day of STEM challenges and games structured around a popular work of science-fiction and a culminating in a talk by the book’s author.

“I mean, when do you get to see kids excited to do math problems at eight in the morning?” says Carmack. “That’s something very rare, but the field trips create that excitement. They love the idea of meeting a real author, of getting an autograph.”

Carmack herself is a writer, currently finishing a degree in English on the creative writing track. After graduation, she hopes to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing, then pursue a career in publishing.

“Seeing how meaningful fiction can be to kids––how much it can motivate them––definitely inspires me to keep writing,” she says. “And the practical skills I’m picking up throwing book-related events should be invaluable in the publishing world. There’s so much I know I can do now that I didn’t know I could do before.”

Contact Debbie Pixton ([email protected]) about opportunities for students with the P-20 Center. For information about STEM Read, including field trip registration, free educational resources (such as writing prompts, games and videos) and STEM-themed reading recommendations, visit or email [email protected].