STEMFest aims to make science cool

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 1:32 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Curtis Clegg)
MidWeek file photo The hair of October Heffner, 12, of Woodstock stands on end as she holds her hands on a Van de Graaff generator at the 2012 STEMFest. The 2013 event is Oct. 19.

DeKALB – Jeremy Benson is encouraged by the growing popularity of STEMFest at Northern Illinois University’s Convocation Center.

Since the first STEMFest in 2010, attendance has grown by 25 percent each year, said Benson, outreach and engagement associate for NIU’s science, technology, education, and math (STEM) outreach program.

“Last year we had right about 5,400 people, so we’re expecting 6,000 or 7,000 people,” he said.

Since 2008, the STEM program has worked with students in kindergarten through 12th grade to build interest and excitement about careers in STEM fields. STEMFest is a free annual event that brings together hundreds of hands-on displays for a full day of fun, learning and exploration.

NIU departments, student groups, regional corporations, museums, educators, and national labs will host activities that include a laser maze, telescope exhibits, Creepy Chemistry and Haunted Physics Labs demonstrations, Frisbee-throwing robot demonstrations, cow eyeball dissections, green screen photographs, and live animals.

“We fall right into the S in STEM, in the science wing of STEMFest,” said Molly Trickey, executive director of the Midwest Museum of Natural History in Sycamore. For the third year, the museum will offer visitors the chance to handle and learn about live reptiles, and will have biological artifacts on display.

“We are mobbed with kids and families all day long,” Trickey said.

Benson strongly encourages exhibitors to provide interactive displays to engage children and to make science look as appealing as possible.

“If we can make scientists look cool to them from the popular eye, it encourages them to want to pursue that,” he said.

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