PHOTOS COURTESY OF CENTRAL ILLINOIS STEM FAIR
Rochester Intermediate School fourth grade students pose with a Meccanoid, a 4-foot tall-robot that is part of the school’s STEM curriculum. He was on display at the Central Illinois STEM Fair the last time it was held in 2019.
After a pandemic pause and a name change, the Central Illinois STEM Fair is back. Featuring dozens of exhibitors, the STEM Fair will be held March 30 from 6-8 p.m. at the Rochester High School Athletic Complex, located at 1 Rocket Drive in Rochester. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Parent volunteer and STEM fair coordinator Pete Gegen says the goal of the STEM Fair is to create excitement around STEM. “We want to promote STEM and make sure students can find something that interests them. We started out just doing it in Rochester schools, showing off all the STEM activities that are available.” Gegen was the parent of three Rochester students when the STEM Fair began, with his one remaining school-aged child now a junior in high school.
Sheril Flynn, K-6 technology facilitator with Rochester Schools, says the pandemic had a huge effect on STEM in schools and she’s glad to be back. “STEM went dormant. It’s touching things and working together in groups, so there was no way to continue that. This year we have really brought STEM back into our schools and tried to make it a focus for teachers to reintroduce STEM activities and getting back to normal.”
The STEM Fair began in Rochester Schools in 2015 to showcase what was available to both teachers and students. Along with a board of volunteers and Flynn’s sister Stephanie Zeidler, who is Rochester Schools’ 7-12 technology facilitator, the group has grown the fair to an area-wide event, with STEM organizations throughout central Illinois and beyond in attendance. Past events have drawn dozens of teachers and school districts, with hundreds of attendees.
The STEM Fair is free, though a ticket is required and can be reserved at https://centralillinoisstemfair.eventbrite.com. The event is geared toward K-12 students and their families, as well as educators.
“Not only does it create a fun environment for kids to learn, but also for parents to learn what the organizations are,” states Gegen. Area teachers can also meet their peers and access STEM resources for their own classrooms.
A list of exhibitors, as well as clubs and curricula can be found on the website, https://sites.google.com/view/rochesterstemfair with more exhibitors added weekly. Gegen notes the event will “have hands-on demos, information for teachers on curriculum resources and larger-scale demos. In one area we’ll have the high school robotics team, and in another corner, we’ll have drone racing exhibitions.”
The importance of STEM for both children and our greater society cannot be overstated. As Flynn says, “We have so many kids that excel academically with paper and pencil. Then the kids who are not able to excel in that area come into STEM, and they are creative, hands-on, and the things they make and create are amazing. It gives an outlet for a lot of students that have different learning styles.” Flynn says STEM also gives kids a chance to focus on real-world problem solving, which has applications far beyond the classroom.
As our society increases its reliance on technology, STEM careers have seen extraordinary growth in the job market. STEM isn’t just about having previously learned knowledge, but also applying that knowledge in a variety of ways to solve problems. This skill is of utmost importance for leaders in industry, government and society as a whole.
There are a variety of studies that have varying projections of job growth for STEM, but all agree that job growth in STEM fields will outpace other occupations in the years to come. Those with STEM degrees usually experience lower unemployment and higher salaries than other occupations.
Even if your child is not destined for a STEM career, they will find plenty of fun at the 6th Annual Central Illinois STEM Fair. Carey Smith is in a STEM/STEAM family and appreciates the resources this fair provides.