Sun. Nov 27th, 2022

What do an obstacle course, a weather balloon launch, a chemistry demonstration, block building and drone flying have in common? They’re all activities visitors can participate in at STEM Fest 2022, a free festival on NIU’s central campus from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, October 15.
For more than a decade, NIU has welcomed thousands of visitors of all ages to its annual STEM Fest, with hundreds of hands-on learning activities, dynamic stage shows and presentations from expert speakers. The festival is organized by NIU STEAM in the Division of Outreach, Engagement and Regional Development and combines the thrill of STEAM exploration with the valuable benefits of university community engagement.
“This is the thirteenth year of STEM Fest, and every year I am blown away by the commitment of NIU faculty, staff and students to share their research and knowledge with the community, as well as by the many companies and organizations around our region who contribute their time, talent and support to make this event a success,” says Kristin Brynteson, director of NIU STEAM.
“It’s been amazing to see all the talent around the university and how everyone is willing to take part and help,” adds STEAM Educator and STEM Fest Organizer Natalia Velazco Placencia.
An NIU student volunteer helps a child fly a drone at STEM Fest.
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, and the philosophy behind STEM Fest has always been simple: STEM fields are for everybody. Everyone – regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity or life experience – is affected by science and technology, and everyone can find their spark of inspiration to learn more about the research and careers that have such a big effect on our lives.
What has changed in the 13 years since STEM Fest began? One of the biggest changes has been an increased recognition of the role of creativity in STEM and of the connections between art and the STEM fields.
“Even though this is STEM Fest, we are NIU STEAM, and it’s really important to us to showcase the ‘A’,” says Brynteson. “Last year – because of the support we received from corporate sponsors and individual donors – we were able to launch our first STEM Fest juried art exhibition. We’re thrilled to offer that again this year, highlighting some of the talented high school and college artists in our region.”
The event will also showcase many of the NIU departments and student groups that bring together art, engineering and science.
While the Celebration Stage in the Holmes Student Center will again feature science demo shows by NIU STEAM and the NIU Chemistry Club, it will also host several new and returning performances to highlight the intersections of art with science, technology and engineering. The NIU Steelpan Ensemble will perform. Gregory Beyer, Director of Percussion Studies in the NIU School of Music, will introduce the audience to the art and joy of Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian Martial Art that incorporates dance, acrobatics and music. And Tracy Nunnally, head of design and technology in the NIU School of Theatre and Dance will present “Engineering and Technology for the Entertainment Industry,” demonstrating the science, engineering and problem solving that goes into theatre tech design to make what happens on the stage look effortless.
Joe Insley is the juror for the STEM Fest art exhibition and will also present a talk on data visualization.
On the Curiosity Stage, also in the Holmes Student Center, Joe Insley, of the NIU School of Art and Design and Argonne National Laboratory, will introduce the audience to data visualization, and experts in the fields of nutrition and dietetics, candy making, virtual reality and space exploration will give visitors a taste of the latest research in these fields.
Visitors will want to stick around to meet up with many of those presenters in the Artists’ Playground area (also in HSC). There, the students of the NIU Steelpan Ensemble will share their unique steelpan instruments with visitors, explaining the process of making these instruments and a little bit of the science and technology that go into getting just the right sound. Joe Insley will share some of the interactive art he’s created with sensors and data visualization. NIU Art and Design Education students will offer hands-on activities for kids, and NIU theatre technology students will show off their national-award winning prop.
“This is a great example of art, technology and engineering skills coming together,” says Placencia.
Another STEM Fest development has been the move to central campus, which has helped the STEM Fest organizers expand their offerings for toddlers, preschoolers and high school students to make sure STEM Fest appeals to all ages.
The NIU Chemistry Club show is always a highlight of STEM Fest.
Hosting STEM Fest under multiple roofs – the Holmes Student Center, Founders’ Memorial Library, Swen Parson Hall and Anderson Hall, as well as in MLK commons – allows for a wider variety of activities for different ages. It also gives high school students the chance to explore NIU’s campus, meet with students in a wide variety of majors and see the labs and classrooms where so much research and learning takes place.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for high school students to talk to NIU students and faculty, as well as employees of our sponsors such as Meta, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Bayer Fund and 3M, and of national laboratories such as Argonne and Fermilab,” says Brynteson. “They can learn about many different careers, and then meet students from the NIU Mars Rover team, Chemistry Club, School of Nursing and many different majors, and begin to imagine what it’s like to be part of these groups as a college student. This is a great snapshot of what it’s like to be a student at NIU.”
High school students will also have a chance to participate in a free Meta Code Remix workshop, offered by Meta, STEM Fest’s premier sponsor. The workshops offer students age 13+ a chance to program musical beats using block-based coding in Javascript and share their creation with their community. Free registration is required at go.niu.edu/MetaCode.
The youngest visitors can build with blocks in the Tot Spot in the Holmes Student Center, enjoy story time in the lobby of Founder Memorial Library, or head down to the library’s lower level to take part in a unique experience organized by NIU Professor of Education Yanghee Kim, who’s won an NSF grant to explore the interactions between robots, artificial intelligence and young children. Children up to about second grade will enjoy the augmented reality game that they can play with the help of their robot sidekick.”
All visitors will want to check out the robots and rovers in Anderson Hall; the weather balloon launch, obstacles courses and larger exhibits on MLK commons; the hands-on STEAM exhibits in SWEN Parson Hall; Science On a Sphere in Founders Memorial Library; and the sponsor booths, Build-A-Blinkie and Haunted Lab in the Holmes Student Center.
“We encourage visitors to stay all day and explore all the nooks and crannies of central campus,” says Brynteson.
STEM Fest 2022 is brought to you by Meta. STEM Fest is sponsored by Bayer Fund, Thermo Fisher Scientific, 3M, ComEd, and Nicor Gas, with support from Ferrara, The Suter Company, and IDEAL Industries.
Learn more at go.niu.edu/stemfest.

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