Families enjoy hands-on entertainment during NIU’s STEM Fest

October 29, 2018

DeKALB – Nolan Tobin of DeKalb couldn’t wait to dissect a cow’s eyeball.

The Jefferson Elementary School student had been looking forward to getting his hands on all of the exhibits at STEM Fest, the annual event that celebrates science, technology, math and engineering, at Northern Illinois University’s Convocation Center. This year’s festival featured more than 90 exhibitors.

“I like coming here because you get to do fun experiments. I like the eyeballs because I think they look really cool,” Nolan said.

His mother, Alicia Tobin, said he also got to touch a human brain, lung and heart at one of the exhibitor’s tables.

“This is an amazing opportunity to have a STEM Fest in our backyard. We loved this last year and couldn’t wait to come back,” she said.

Thousands of families from all over Northern Illinois packed the Convocation Center on Saturday to explore the many STEM fields represented at the event, which included biology, chemistry, physics, nursing, engineering, computer science and many other departments from NIU, as well as area science museums, local police and fire departments and more.

Many children were interested in touching the cow eyeballs, which students from NIU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry were dissecting. Student Jill Belluomini said that although most are intrigued, there always are some kids who are “grossed out” when they see the eyeballs.

“Cow eyeballs are very similar to human eyeballs so we can show kids what our eyeballs look like,” she said. “They’re learning more about the body and how it works. This gets them interested.”

New at this year’s STEM Fest was the Northern Illinois Mini Maker Faire, which brought in makers and maker groups to share their innovations and creations. Children were able to meet the various makers and learn how to create their own project. This year’s festival also had the first low-sensory hour at the end of the day, which featured lower lights and less noise for individuals who are sensitive to stimulating environments.

Sam Watt, STEM educator and lead organizer of the fest, said that he wanted to make sure everyone was included at STEM Fest and wanted to provide a welcoming environment for all.

“STEM is for everyone. There’s not one person who can’t get something from learning about STEM fields,” he said. “This is such a huge, exciting event, and it can be loud and distracting, so we wanted to modify it to include more people. Everything here is hands-on and engaging. It’s never too early for kids to start thinking about STEM careers.”

Jacob Burlingame brought his daughter, Eleanor, 7, so she could be exposed to all of the opportunities in the STEM fields. He said science education is very important to him.

“I want her to be comfortable and interested in science because it’s traditionally been pushed as a male pursuit,” he said. “But the tide is changing and more females are entering STEM careers.”

Kelly Phillips of Malta and her daughters were at STEM Fest for the third year in a row. She said that it’s a “no-brainer” for them to come every year.

“It’s a good way for them to get exposed to science, and we want to support NIU and the community. The kids love it and talk about it for weeks after,” she said.

The NIU Supermileage Club brought its “ultra fuel-efficient” vehicle, which gets about 2,000 miles a gallon. Club President Josh Helsper said kids often are curious about it and always ask questions.

“We love talking to kids about [the vehicle],” he said. “We like to show them that anything is possible when they put their mind to it. It’s good for them to see [STEM exhibits] and be exposed to them. Technology is the future, and it’s important to learn about, even if it’s not their field of interest.”