Making robots dance, flying drones and petting Mork, the Madagascar hissing cockroach, were just a few of the activities available on a recent Saturday for K-12 students attending STEAM Fest at Virginia State University. The event opened in the university’s Multipurpose Center with a raucous crowd of more than 600 students and their adult chaperones (parents, grandparents and organized groups) who responded loudly and enthusiastically to the welcome given by Dr. Calvin Mackie, a former Tulane University engineering professor and creator of the New Orleans, La.-based STEM NOLA. STEM NOLA delivers STEM programs, events and activities in underserved communities and aims to grow future STEM innovators, creators and entrepreneurs.
The event featured demonstrations and hands-on activities about alternative energy, magnetic levitation, hydrodynamics, robotics, drones, virtual reality, 3-D printing and more. Susan King of Matoaca, Va., brought her seven-year-old granddaughter Kanaya. “I want her to explore different technologies to get her interested in something she can take back and learn at school,” King said. “It’s been great. I think it should be a summer camp.” She said her granddaughter was excited to attend.
“I like that I’m seeing a lot of families, that parents are interested in taking information and knowledge home for their kids,” said Barry McGuire, a STEM NOLA employee who traveled from New Orleans for the event and demonstrated 3D printing. “Since we started doing these events five years ago, we’ve seen students go on to enroll in engineering and science. We’re exposing kids to STEM that might not otherwise be exposed.”
“Everyone who’s stopped by is very engaged and eager to learn more,” said 4-H STEAM Extension Specialist Dr. Chantel Wilson, who taught kids about physics, entomology and paleontology. “Many of the kids were thrilled to take home fossilized shark teeth from the time the dinosaurs roamed the earth, millions of years ago.” But Mork was the biggest star of the morning. “Kids and adults alike were amazed to hear about their important ecological role in the environment and learned that not all cockroaches are pests to be exterminated!” she said.
The event drew attendees from the other side of the state and from neighboring North Carolina. Keith Wilson and two other adult volunteer chaperones from The Golden Fold, a youth mentoring program, brought 14 youth from Norfolk, Va. “We came to introduce our mentees, young African American men, to science and engineering,” said Wilson, who is an engineer. He also volunteered at the event demonstrating engines and motors. “Younger kids seem to be more interested, and like to see more moving parts and how the engines work,” he said.
Many volunteers like Ryan Seabrook, a VSU 4-H Collegiate member who demonstrated the Van De Graaf generator, helped to make the event successful. “I’m not a science major, but I’m excited because I’m able to teach others,” he said. People of all ages stopped by his station to learn about and test out the electrostatic generator, but many were too timid to touch it. Volunteers from VSU 4-H Collegiate, VSU’s Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANNRS) club as well as local 4-H teen clubs from Sussex, Prince George and Chesterfield counties and the city of Richmond helped make the event a success. What better way to spend a Saturday than to spark the imagination of youth and adults alike and encouraging the development of future scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians.
Discover more VSU events here.
Learn more about VSU 4-H programs here.
Article by: Tammy McCausland, Virginia State University