This past Saturday, NIU’s STEM Fest celebrated its 10th year with the largest attendance on record, welcoming more than 8,200 attendees, including more than 700 NIU student volunteers.
The excitement was palpable as people of all ages took in talks, performances and science demo shows and explored hands-on activities celebrating science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
In the words of STEM Fest organizer Sam Watt, “We gave away about 100 sand tiles for casting aluminum, flew drones for seven hours in our 36 foot by 48 foot drone cage, welcomed Susan Kohler from NASA, had 56 people attend a weather balloon launch, and took pictures with official NIU mascots Victor E. Huskie, Mission I and Mission II.”
These are only a few of the more than 200 activities STEM Fest visitors enjoyed. Other highlights included the Build-a-Blinkie station, which stayed busy all day as hundreds of people learned to solder and construct their own flashing LED pins, the Tot Spot where younger children explored their creativity with a variety of blocks and art activities, and – of course – the always popular pig eyeball dissections.
“My children love attending STEM Fest,” one visitor reported. “They are always surprised at the depth of work that is being done revolving around STEM.”
Another shared, “This has been one of the best experiences for my grandson. And I have learned so much myself. The volunteers have been very helpful in educating and explaining what they are showcasing.”
Watt says several families mentioned that they had only come for one particular activity. “But I saw them all day long. They must have found a few other things to do!”
NIU alumna and employee Pettee Guerrero was one of this weekend’s visitors, as well as one of STEM Fest’s biggest fans. Guerrero, a former NIU STEM educator and current director of the National Safety Education Center at NIU, says STEM Fest is the reason she ended up attending NIU. When she attended her first STEM Fest in 2011, Guerrero discovered a program in Industrial Management through the NIU College of Engineering that was a perfect fit. She enrolled in NIU, volunteered at STEM Fest in 2012 and went on to become an employee and STEM Fest organizer in 2013. Now she returns each year as a way to reconnect with coworkers and former students and to share her love of STEM with her own children.
“It’s been really wonderful to watch kids, especially former students and STEM campers, grow up as they return to STEM Fest every year,” she says. “It’s wonderful to see students who have attended NIU STEAM programs at their schools come to STEM Fest and show their families what they’ve been learning and why they’re so excited about it.”
Now STEM Fest is a family tradition for Guerrero, as it is for many families in the area. “My daughter was less than a month old the year I organized STEM Fest, so she was with me that year and has been coming every year since,” she says. Now that her daughter is four and she has a young son, as well, Guerrero says, “It’s really exciting to watch them grow into more of the exhibits each year.”
Although Watt will be moving on to a new job opportunity soon, like Guerrero he will continue to hold a special affection for STEM Fest.
“This may be my last year coordinating and planning STEM Fest with NIU STEAM, but I intend to come back as a volunteer next year and the foreseeable future!” he says. “I want to thank everyone who gave their time and energy to make this the largest STEM Fest to date! Our team and I agree that it was one of the smoothest and most successful years, and we couldn’t have made it happen without the support of Com Ed, Thermo Fisher Scientific, all our other sponsors and our 700 student volunteers.”