STEM 3.14 Fest at Wright-Patt brings science, math fun to students

An event held last year at the Youth Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in celebration of theoretical physicist Albert Einstein’s birthday and Pi Day March 14 was so successful, organizers decided to hold a “sequel” – STEM 3.14 Fest 2.0.

Pi Day is an annual celebration of the mathematical constant pi, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.

For several hours after school March 14 this year, dozens of youth from the Prairies School Age Program and Prairies Youth Center gathered to explore activities related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Participants’ ages ranged from 5 to 14 years old.

Hands-on learning activities were run by volunteers from the 88th Air Base Wing Civil Engineer Group, Air Force Research Laboratory, Air Force Institute of Technology, Chaminade-Julienne’s STEM school, 4-H extension offices from Greene and Montgomery counties, Greene County Library, Wright State University Society of Women Engineers, National Society of Black Engineers, and Society of American Military Engineers – Kittyhawk Post. Some of those organizations were repeats from last year; others were new.

Launching go-karts and catapults, discovering visible DNA, building structures, 3D printing, manipulating drones and coding programs were some of the activities coordinated by Esther Jones and Joel McKeever, Youth Programs assistants at the Prairies Youth Center. There were so many presenters that the space utilized had to be expanded to include a room in addition to the large gym.

“Kids go through their school years and may not think about their futures,” Jones said. “Whether they go into a STEM career or not, we want them to be exposed to a variety of STEM possibilities. This month is Women’s History Month, and we have quite a few women representing that.

“We want kids to focus on these careers and see that there are plenty of opportunities,” she said. “We want them to see that using STEM concepts is fun.”

Having new experiences was another goal of the event, McKeever said.

Capt. Richard Uber, a mathematics professor at the Air Force Institute of Technology, and Capt. Katie MacGregor, an engineering management program graduate student, used a catapult to explain physical properties to children who visited their area. A second activity staffed by AFIT student Capt. Luke Cowen used a gyroscope to demonstrate force, pulling left and right as a child held it while standing on a disc.

“That’s a concept we use to control satellites in space without burning fuel,” Uber said.

He was enthusiastic about the STEM Fest.

“Instilling these concepts in the youth is important. Everything we’ve seen recently says that encouraging future careers in STEM means reaching them early,” Uber said. “We’re happy to participate in this.”

“It’s fun to see the gears turn in their minds while they’re learning a new concept,” Cowen said. “It’s like being a magician and giving away your secrets at the same time.”

Senior Airman Brad Nimmo, a scientific applications specialist who works in AFRL’s 711th Human Performance Wing’s BATMAN (Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided kNowledge) program, brought noise-canceling headphones and a communication box for kids to try out.

“At 26 I didn’t think I’d be working in BATMAN and seeing everything they do. It’s cool to be able to communicate to the kids that STEM or critical thinking and the application of science are a part of everyday life,” Nimmo said.

After removing his headphones and examining the black plasma shield Nimmo brought, Aiden Cole, 9, said he liked attending STEMfest.

“You get to learn all different new things and get smarter,” he said.

Bennie Luck, Youth Programs coordinator, said an important part of STEM Fest is creating an opportunity for children to see people in STEM careers who look like them.

That was demonstrated by Adam Carpenter, an employee at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. He showed kids the three components of headphones, with wires running to a paper cup in lieu of a stereo speaker.

“We do a lot of community outreach teaching young kids about STEM. This is something I really like doing,” he said. “I love teaching people how things actually work.

“Seeing other people that do what you do and look like you really gives you that encouragement to go out and succeed,” Carpenter said.

That concept applied to girls, too, as college engineering students Noel Fleeman and Luciana Dewire staffed the Wright State University Society of Women Engineers table with a basic analog circuitry display.

Women are a minority in the engineering field, Fleeman said.

“When you get to college you’re going to see mostly men in your classes. That is so discouraging. We need women in engineering. We all think differently and have different mindsets,” she said.

“It’s really important that they (girls) get interested,” Dewire, a biomedical engineering student who moved to the U.S. two years ago from Brazil, said. “I didn’t have these opportunities when I was a kid. This (event) is a great thing.”

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