It’s always exciting to hear from and live chat with experts from NASA, Fermilab and Argonne National Lab. But the real stars of NIU’s Oct. 31 STEM Fest Celebration might be the NIU student presenters who are majoring in diverse fields such as computer science, electrical engineering, communicative disorders, art, chemistry and math.
Have you ever tried to build a freestanding upright ring of Pringles chips using no adhesives, just chips, friction and a little determination? Well, get out your can of Pringles because Math Club President Brenna Bretzinger and Vice President Allie Mohr are ready to show you how – and teach you a bit about gravity and friction in the process. The Math Club video is one of many that will be available in the Huskie Hall virtual room, along with several 20-minute live presentations throughout the online event.
The STEM Fest virtual celebration is free and open to the public and features fun talks and activities for all ages. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Oct. 31, participants will be able to view STEM presentations and videos, live chat with experts, try out hands-on activities at home, and enjoy lively science demo shows. Registration is available at go.niu.edu/stemcelebration.
For visitors who’d like to take a more serious look at STEM majors and careers, the NIU STEM student panel should not be missed. Moderator Sam Watt (an NIU alumnus who earned his B.S. in physics in 2014 and M.S.Ed. in instructional technology in 2019) will ask four current and recent NIU students about their science- and technology-related majors, their career plans and their tips for getting the most out of an NIU education. All four have worked as student workers for NIU STEAM, which creates STEM Fest each year, along with other educational programming for the public, teachers and students. They’ll reflect on what they learned in their work with NIU STEAM, their courses and their participation in NIU clubs and organizations.
All four panelists agree that much of the exciting work they’re doing in their classes and careers lies at the intersection of different disciplines. Hal Brynteson, a junior majoring in computer science, had been a digital artist for about 10 years before enrolling at NIU. “My time at NIU and my work with NIU STEAM has been about pursuing an interest in how disciplines overlap – how digital art and computers and programming overlap with art as a whole,” Brynteson says. Brynteson has done a variety of work in graphic design and programming as part of their student employment and has been active on the Mars Rover Team in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET).
NIU senior Theresa Li explores the connections between hardware and software with her double major in computer science and electrical engineering. “I’m on NIU Robotics, and I learned a lot about how hardware and software work together, which is why I decided to double major,” says Li. “When you join a design team like Robotics, then you’re actually applying the skills you learned in the classroom, and these are the skills you use in industry for an actual job. This past summer, in my internship at John Deere, it has really helped a lot.”
NIU alumna Jasmine Carey (B.S. industrial management and technology, M.S.Ed. instructional technology) came to NIU with an interest in CAD (computer-aided design) and loved the hands-on aspect of classes in the Department of Engineering Technology. When Carey came to work for NIU STEAM, she also discovered a love of teaching, which she pursued with a master’s degree in instructional technology. Carey now works full time as a kindergarten through fifth grade STEM teacher in Rockford. “Why not teach technology and combine my interests all into one?” she asks.
Junior Idalia Ruiz is majoring in biomedical engineering and minoring in math and philosophy, and she’s noticing many connections among her different courses. “At the beginning, they all seemed very separate,” she says, “but then you start to see down the road that they’re all connected, especially when you have to apply these things in the field.”
Although the STEM Fest team will miss the excitement of welcoming thousands of visitors to the NIU Convocation Center, they say there are also some advantages to the online format, which allows visitors to customize their own STEM Fest experience and get a front-row seat to every session.
The main STEM Fest events will take place in three virtual “rooms” throughout the day – the Haunted STEAM Lab, which features demos and videos with a spooky theme; the Huskie Hall, which showcases the research and artistry of NIU faculty and students; and the STEM Quest room, spotlighting STEM experts from a variety of fields and organizations. The day will end with a “Find Your Spark” science demo show, streamed simultaneously to all the rooms.
NIU STEAM staff members will be on hand in all the virtual rooms to answer questions and help visitors navigate the array of live presentations, chats and videos available.
Some of the highlights the STEM Fest team is most looking forward to include:
- Amusement Park Physics (10:20 a.m., STEM Quest) with NASA Education Specialist Susan Kohler.
- Engineering at Home (10:40 a.m., Huskie Hall) with Dr. Christine Nguyen from the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.
- NIU STEM Student Panel (11:40 a.m., Huskie Hall) with current NIU students and recent graduates.
- Esports Chat and Chew (12:10 p.m., Huskie Hall) with the NIU Esports team.
- Math, Engineering and Dreams (12:20 p.m., STEM Quest) with authors Kelly Starling Lyons, Amy Alznauer and Gillian King-Cargile.
Register now for this free event and view a full schedule at go.niu.edu/stemcelebration.
STEM Fest is possible thanks to the generosity of our sponsors: IDEAL Industries Inc., 3M, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Nicor Gas, ComEd, Mortenson, First National Bank of Omaha and the Suter Company.