SANDY — The second annual STEM fest took off in full swing Tuesday as Gov. Gary R. Herbert kicked off the event with a speech describing the effect that supporting STEM has had on the community as well as citing statistics on the overall shape of Utah’s educational system nation-wide.
“We’re currently ranked 16th in the nation in math, that’s not high enough, it’s not where we want to be. We want to be number one,” Herbert said, as he continued to cite statistics on how we compare to the rest of the nation. “We’re 16th in math, in reading/language arts we’re 10th, and for science we’re 7th.”
The main attraction at the South Town Expo Center event was the kids themselves. More than 17,000 children were expected to attend the event, at 8:30 a.m. the busses started rolling in, packed with kids, all eager to learn something new, or at least play with one of the several video games set up at booths around the event.
There were booths with Robotic cars which picked up and moved balls and various other pieces of equipment, which the kids could of course play with. There was a “vortex cannon” which was simply a trash can, with plastic taped over the top and a hole cut in the bottom.
The Trash can, filled with smoke, was struck on the plastic on the top, creating smoke rings which would then knock paper cups harmlessly from the heads of participants nearly ten feet away. There were even booths set up to get kids excited about programming, though many of them were simply drawn in by the video games set up nearby.
“Stem is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, and I think it’s pretty cool because it helps you get into careers that need those [skills] to help you excel in what you can,” said Logan, a 13 year old boy, who had just finished testing out the vortex cannon.
He described how being at this event had influenced his decision on which way he wanted to go as far as a career path. Currently Logan is planning on becoming an engineer.
“It’s pretty neat,” said Thomas Waller, “Right now I could go and take a robotics class, I think would be kind of cool with C-Tec.” He described the experience of STEM fest as being “Ingenuitive.”
Scott Gilbert who works at IN-Flash, described the goal of today’s events in a nutshell. “We’re trying to get kids excited about Math, Science, and Technology because we’ve got great jobs in engineering and technicians.” “It’s cool to get kids thinking about… if I’m interested in math, science, or technology, I could actually apply it with what I do in my job every day.”
Tamara Goetz, executive Director of the Utah STEM Action Center, said she wants to get kids passionate about STEM.
“We want them to learn more about STEM, and we feel that the best way for them to do that, is to meet the companies in their own backyard, so to speak, that do STEM, because you can’t be what you can’t see,” she said.
She said BYU students could be involved in the program by being mentor, and helping with after-school activities and to create a culture at the university of working with K-12 children. She added that thanking the Legislature for supporting funding for STEM, so that they know that the investments that they are making in this are critical.