STEM is alive and well at the USA Science and Engineering Festival!

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Overview of the activity in the halls!

Jenica Krall, A Backpack Journalist Intern

Washington, DC

April 29, 2014

Washington Convention Center – USA  Science & Engineering Festival

With the Cherry Blossom festivities gearing toward the end of their season, tourists are still flocking from coast-to-coast for another popular festival, the 3rd annual USA Science and Engineering Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. As an intern for the Backpack Journalist program, I had the opportunity to attend the event and talk to students, scientists’, and professionals dedicating their life to science and engineering.

Overview of the activity in the halls!
Overview of the activity in the halls!

The moment I entered the 703,000 square foot convention center, I knew that the future of our country was in good hands with jittery children who jumped and screamed with enthusiasm as they all anticipated the start of the convention.

The convention, targeted at children in grades K-6, aims to excite, teach, and engage youth in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematic (STEM) education. Sponsored by elite corporations that are highly involved in STEM education, the festival attracts a variety of attendees interested in a range of topics from earth sciences to medicine.

Many exhibitors, like the U.S. Air Force’s partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology, target youth as young as five or six years old. “If you don’t catch kids by seventh grade, they have already lost interest,” says Dr. James Sowell of Georgia Institute of Technology.

This is more difficult than some might think. “These children we are raising today lose the hands-on interactions in the education system and are replacing those experiences with technology, we are trying to use the two simultaneously to create a new generation of STEM learners,” claims Dr. Sowell, “Starting with the moon.”

The partnership between the U.S. Air Force and Georgia Institute of Technology aims to get telescopic live video in classrooms by developing the technology and educating teachers. According to the Air Force Research Laboratory, the moon is the easiest way to get children engaged because they see it everyday; it is always there for children to see.

“Science is important. And we are here today because we have seen a decline in STEM education since the 1960’s even though it is the most important occupation in the world,” says Dr. Sowell. “We need to start leading anyone at any age into astronomy.”

Moving forward Dr. Sowell and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory team hope to get the program into classrooms across the east coast; however, for now, they are trialing their first demo here at the USA Science and Engineering Festival.

As a significant sponsor of the festival, the U.S. Air Force tries to influence students and teachers through technology, just like most of the exhibitors in STEM education. Walking through the crowded exhibit halls, I saw children participating in hundreds of hands on activities. Attendees were walking on water, interacting with former NBA basketball players while discussing physics, and even singing along to the Grammy award-winning rock band, “They Might Be Giants.”

All in all, students and adults alike were able to reap the benefits of having thousands of exhibitors conveniently bring science to one general location and share for all attendees to enjoy for free. You know what they say, “You learn something new everyday!”

The event was founded by Larry Bock and sponsored and hosted by Lockheed Martin, a breakthrough technology company. The festival occurs annually in the Washington, DC area.

For a complete list of sponsors, activities, or other information on the USA Science and Engineering Festival, please visit:www.usasciencefestival.org.

Notation:  Jenica attended one of the first A Backpack Journalist workshops at the National Guard Youth Symposium in New Orleans, 2010.  She now attends college studying journalism, and she most recently contacted us about working with us as a “backpack reporter”.  We just heard from Dr. Sowell, at GA Tech, stating how much he enjoying speaking with her!  More to come from Jenica after the exams are over!