Science Fair: Michigan Tech hosts 21st annual festival

Jon Jaehnig/For the Gazette An estimated 300 children and their families visited the STEM Festival that took place at Michigan Technological University on Tuesday Afternoon. The Festival consisted of hands-on activities provided by more than a dozen STEM-oriented student organizations, departments, and community groups.

HOUGHTON — The 21st annual Western U.P. Science Fair and Festival took place Tuesday in the Memorial Union Building on the campus of Michigan Technological University.

The festival featuring themes of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) was open to students and families from kindergarten through eighth grade from the same area and allowed students to interact with activities designed by MTU student organizations and departments and STEM-related community organizations.

An estimated 300 students and their families attended the event.

“We’ve got 15 different Michigan Tech student organizations, a lot of new ones this year, which is really fun. A lot of students do like to do the Science Fair year after year, so it’ll be fun for them because they aren’t going to be like the same things that they did last year,” said Joan Chadde, director of the MTU Center for Science and Environmental Outreach and acoordinator of the STEM Fair. “We actually have 110 student volunteers this year, which is an all-time record. They’re really excited to participate and it’s just a really fun event.”

Because the target audience is so young, the main drive of the presenting organizations is to get children interested in science in general rather than to recruit members. This gives the event an atmosphere different from student organization recruiting events like Spring Fling or K-Day.

“At this event we want to get kids interested in rocketry. That’s actually one of our mission statements for the organization,” said Dan Faber, vice president of the Keweenaw Rocket Range. The group organized last year and this is their first time at the STEM Festival. At their booth, visitors made small paper rockets that fit around a straw. Thy could then blow into the straw to launch the rocket and make adjustments to their design to try to get it to launch farther. “What we want to do is show them something that they can do at home and show their friends,” said Faber.

Younger students who want to join an organization before college were welcome to talk to the FIRST Robotics team, a robotics group for K-12 students.

“We are here today with the Houghton Middle School team called the Snowbots because the science fair upstairs is for middle school students and it made perfect sense to showcase something that is also for middle school students,” said team coach Melody Doig. “We’re always looking for community events that we’re a natural fit for … It’s partially community outreach and partially educational.”

At the booth, visitors could pilot the robots and attempt to toss foam cubes into bins.

“I heard it was really good last year from my friends who went. We got an email from the school and they had glitter slime. My daughter wanted glitter slime and I know that would motivate her to come,” said parent Meghan Werner. “I think the train station was really great for my boys.”

“My son was really looking forward to all of the different hands on activities,” said parent Amy Hamlin. “We tested an egg drop and made some slime and a flashlight.”

The STEM Festival and Science Fair were funded by the Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences Institute, Ecosystem Science Center, the Great Lakes Research Center, the Pavlis Honors College, the Sustainable Futures Institute, the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute, the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science and the School of Technology, the Office of the Provost and by the Departments of Mathematical Sciences, Kinesiology and Integrative Physiology, Mechanical Engineering – Engineering Mechanics, and Social Sciences.