On the Record

On the Record with Sam Watt

Sam Watt, STEM educator at Northern Illinois University, poses next to a 3-D printer used to make the chain mail cape he is wearing.
Sam Watt, STEM educator at Northern Illinois University, poses next to a 3-D printer used to make the chain mail cape he is wearing.

DeKALB – Sam Watt remembers being dragged out of bed at 5 a.m. by his roommates to attend the first-ever NIU STEMfest.

Watt said that what he experienced and learned at that event led him to majoring in physics, earning his teaching license and becoming a STEM educator at Northern Illinois University.

STEMfest and the Northern Illinois Mini Maker Faire will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the NIU Convocation Center in DeKalb. Both events and parking are free and open to the public.

STEMfest celebrates innovations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. NIU STEM departments, student groups, regional corporations, museums, educators and national labs will join forces to present hundreds of activities that range in complexity to entertain people of all ages. The event’s goal is to increase awareness of the critical role science and other STEM fields play in the world.

This year’s STEMfest will have more than 90 exhibitor booths, each hosting a hands-on STEM activity. A new addition to this year’s STEMfest is a low-sensory hour from 4 to 5 p.m.

NIU STEAM will host the Northern Illinois Mini Maker Faire, held simultaneously with STEMfest. The event will feature more than 20 diverse makers creating an array of items from robots to guitars.

Watt met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss STEMfest, the Northern Illinois Mini Maker Faire, and the importance of a free and fun STEM festival in DeKalb.

Milton: What is STEMfest?

Watt: STEMfest is all about engaging and inspiring the public. We want to dispel illusions about STEM. We want to show everyone that STEM is fun, exciting and all around us. Whether it’s through a weather balloon launch, robots, cow eye dissections or our interactive art room with glow-in-the-dark paint or our haunted physics lab, no matter your age or interest level, there’s going to be something to do that’s exciting and hands-on. And while you’re having fun, you’re learning. We will have three stages, demonstration shows, author talks and concessions.

Milton: What are a few exhibitors and their activities?

Watt: NIU’s Educational Technology, Research and Assessment will have brainwave scanners that will allow you to watch your brain’s processes as you learn and think. NIU’s observatory will bring telescopes. Thermo Fisher Scientific will have a CSI-type crime scene tent. The DeKalb Fire Department will bring an ambulance. The DeKalb County 4-H will have a service learning project, where they will make tortillas for Hope Haven and local food pantries.

Milton: Tell me more about the Northern Illinois Mini Maker Faire.

Watt: The fair will be held the same time, the same place and the same price – free – as STEMfest. It’s another way to get everyone involved. It’s an event for everyone and anyone who likes to craft, create and invent things. We hope that STEMfest will be an incubator for the event and it takes off.

Milton: How are making things and STEM similar?

Watt: There’s a lot of STEM and STEAM in the maker fair. It just gives a different perspective. One artist is coming, she’s with FeLion Studios Aluminum Factory. She’s bringing her aluminum foundry and is an iron cast artist. There will be guitar makers and a rocket enthusiast that builds model rockets from household items. And in the maker fair and throughout STEMfest, there will be robots. So many robots! Robots are always popular and a huge hit. There will be between four and six student groups from the area that will bring in robots and show off the robots they made. There will also be a 3-and-a-half-foot tall R2-D2 roaming around.

Milton: What else is new this year?

Watt: We will be having a low-sensory hour from 4 to 5 p.m. It will be held for guests and visitors sensitive to extra sights and sounds. We will lower the lights and stop using overhead sound. We’ll also ask vendors to lower their sound and light. The low-sensory hour is new this year. We feel that STEM is important for everyone. We don’t want anyone to miss out on the excitement or fun. The hour is for everyone, people on the autism spectrum, eye or hearing disabilities, or just people that want a calmer environment. A student worker suggested the idea to us this year, and we ran with it. It truly is an hour that’s all-inclusive and for everybody.

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