STEM festival puts the fun in science

Two younger participants collide in the bumper ball game.

Last weekend, the sixth annual science, technology, engineering, and mathematics festival, simply known as STEM fest, successfully opened amidst large crowds of curious community members and enthusiastic students. In addition to hosting games, food, special guests and science inspired prizes, the festival expertly captured that which makes the STEM track of learning fun: hands on discovery.

Eye-popping educational amusements peppered the field behind Sutton Science Center, such as robotic connect-four and a pumpable synthetic heart.

“This year we focused more on perfecting the games rather than adding new ones,” said Sarah Glenn, STEM fest leader and American Chemical Society club president. “We added a new bicentennial game in honor of the college’s two-hundredth anniversary, and worked on making things more permanent. So, instead of using foam for game construction, we built with wood and other permanent resources.”

Another addition to this year’s festival was the appearance of Jessie, the red-tailed hawk, who was handled by special guest ornithologist Dr. Lincoln. Many fest goers, especially younger ones, were fascinated by the bird’s wild beauty which invoked questions from the crowd.

“Kids are losing the opportunity to just explore what they’re learning in class,” said Dr. Nathan Duncan, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and faculty supervisor of the American Chemical Society. “Science is an inquiry based field, so kids need to be given an opportunity to think about the how and the why, and to wonder and be amazed by the natural world. Problem solving is best taught hands on and with fun.”

Joseph Logsdon draws back the Nucleus Catapult game.
A robotic arm plays connect four with a family.

The festival was started six years ago by Dr. Duncan, along with Tri-Beta Biology Honors Society faculty supervisor and ecologists/zoologist Dr. David Unger.

“[The festival] went very well,” said Unger. “We had a good turn out and got really good reviews from parents. Most folks that I spoke with felt that the event went smoothly.”

This year’s STEM fest also featured an engineering competition. “The best moment for me was when a parent told me their son read about the engineering competition and that was the only thing he could think about for two weeks leading up to the competition,” continued Unger. “Also, I think he actually won the competition. So, the fact that we could get a young mind so excited and have him win the competition, you know that had to do a lot for the kid.”

Yet, both Duncan and Unger understand that these moments would not have been possible without help, especially from the SGA. While STEM fest is a partnership between ACS and Tri-Beta, the professors wish to note that the event would be impossible without funding from the student government at Maryville College.

The festival was helped by volunteer students who arrived early en masse in order to assist with set up.

“ALL the volunteers deserve a huge thank you,” said Glenn. “We could not have done STEM fest without the masses of students who signed up to help.”

Now that STEM fest 2018 is successfully wrapped up, one wonders how next year’s festival will compare.

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