Approximately 600 elementary and middle school students from Acadiana got to learn about complex science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts in a fun, interactive, and fully immersive way at the inaugural Acadiana STEM Fest, according to The Acadiana Advocate.
The event, Acadiana STEM Fest, was held in the University of Louisiana Student Union and was the result of a partnership between Peter Sheppard, the executive director for UL Lafayette’s Center for Excellence in Education,and STEM NOLA, a nonprofit focused on exposing communities to STEM learning opportunities.
In total, 40 activities, which were provided by STEM NOLA, were installed inside and around UL Lafayette’s student union and manned by UL Lafayette STEM and education students as well as volunteers from industry partners such as CGI and Fenstermaker. These 40 activities allowed 600 students from Acadia, Lafayette, St. Landry, St. Martin, and Vermilion parishes to explore STEM concepts in ways that were much more inviting than traditional lecture and research-based methods.
The event allowed students to learn in nontraditional ways that were enhanced by technology. For instance, they could learn about how radio waves controlled drones by actually operating drones in a controlled environment or even learn about structural engineering by crafting sturdy, resilient structures made out of uncooked spaghetti and marshmallows. The director of the event, Peter Sheppard, was reported as saying that he wanted the students to realize that opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge exist far beyond traditional classrooms.
Sheppard spoke on the value of Acadiana STEM Fest’s approach to nontraditional learning by saying, “I think curriculums are restricted. Schools are restricted in what they can do. Those restrictions aren’t there in the real world. Exposure to STEM activities gives them the space to think and to do it and to be curious without having to be evaluated or judged. It can be fun. It can be useful. It can be practical. It can be intellectual.”
Other than having the methods by which the students learn be different from their traditional classrooms, Sheppard also strived to remove any barriers to access for students who otherwise wouldn’t have frequent and free exposure to STEM programing, activities, and learning opportunities such as girls, minority students, and those students from underserved or under-resourced communities.
Speaking on the benefits of the set of skills that one can gain through STEM-based learning, David Hawkins, the director of operations for STEM NOLA, emphasized that the world is becoming more and more STEM-focused by the day, citing the “growing ubiquity of artificial intelligence and computer-controlled equipment and machinery.”
Hawkins stressed the importance of students developing themselves from a root center by challenging their minds; he said, “When we expose our kids to the possibility of being a tennis star or golf star, they put in the time, work, and effort for it. If we expose our kids to the possibilities of being teachers, engineers, doctors, scientists – we train them to move in that direction. Early exposure gives them encouragement and the motivation to move in the direction of STEM. The skillset you learn in the STEM fields transcends throughout your life. Regardless of what you do, you’re going to have to be analytical, solve problems and you’re going to be faced with challenges.”
According to Sheppard, Acadiana STEM Fest is the first of seven planned camp-style events that the Center for Excellence and Education and its Region 4 STEM Network Center are hosting at UL Lafayette in the next few months, which is branded as “STEMulating Summer 2.0.” These upcoming events as well as the inaugural Acadiana STEM Fest were made possible by grant funds from the Louisiana Board of Regents and its LaSTEM Initiative.
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