STEM Fest unites businesses, training programs kids in name of math, science

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

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photoColumbian files Sturgeon will take center stage during the annual Sturgeon Festival on Saturday.

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Science, technology, engineering and mathematics--better known as the amalgamation STEM--has been a growing drumbeat in the education and career worlds. But what does a STEM-based job actually look like?

The STEM Fest seeks to answer the question not just for students, but their families as well.

"We decided that we need to expose both students and teachers to STEM, along with their families," Mary Brown said. She is with the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council that is coordinating the event with 50 businesses and organizations, from the United States Geological Service to Sapa Extrusions North America.

"It's definitely a new venture for us," Brown said. "It's a whole new ballgame, but we've gotten a great reaction from the companies and the community."

The development council took advantage of its existing connections with businesses through its WorkSource training and its youth programs with Educational Service District 112.

"It's important to raise public awareness of STEM initiatives," said Rob Siegel, coordinator of STEM initiatives at ESD 112.

There is a growing emphasis on creating partnerships between students, teachers, organizations and businesses to help foster STEM fields, with a larger field of grants and funds aimed specifically at STEM initiatives.

"And the public needs to be aware of why STEM is so important, and ask questions about what STEM means," Siegel said.

STEM Fest consists of two parts: organized site events where you can explore local companies, and two showcases -- tonight's Family STEM Night at Lower Columbia College in Longview and Saturday's Clark College STEM Expo.

Family STEM Night will run 4 to 8 tonight, featuring activities such as a gummy bear launch, mirror maze laser shoot and a sonic tomography demonstration, showing the process of using sound waves to see the internal structures of trees.

Saturday's big STEM Expo will run from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., featuring many hands-on activities such as LEGO robotics, building paper rockets with Clark College's NERD (Not Even Remotely Dorky) Science Club, learning about the "spiders" the USGS uses to monitor Mount St. Helens, brain teasers from Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and more.

It's also a chance for participating businesses and organizations to encourage students to pursue their fields.

"In the past three or four years, businesses have started to recognize that they need to do the outreach to develop a future workforce," Brown said, "especially since the world of manufacturing has changed so much in just the last 10 years."

There are on-site events for all ages, like the 17th annual Sturgeon Festival at the Water Resources Education Center, police demonstrations at the open house at the Clark County Sheriff's Office, or testing the water quality at Gaiser Pond as students get a chance to collect their own samples and test the chemical content.

Other events are aimed at middle school or high school students, such as the building-science tour at New Traditions Homes' construction site as they implement their sustainable-building methods. Students also can try their hand at conservation science at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, analyzing artifacts of ceramic, metal and glass.

"A lot of these businesses have never participated in these sorts of things before," Brown said. "When I was younger, I would have loved to have something like this; I would have tried to be an engineer."

"The main reason we got involved: We want to help kids understand that math is more than just engineering," Jeff Graham said.

He is project manager of Organization Development and Human Resources at UNFI's Ridgefield Distribution Center.

"We're going to help them see you don't have to be an A student to understand what math can do," Graham said.

UNFI says it is North America's leading distributor of whole and organic products, serving clients like Whole Foods, New Seasons, Fred Meyer and Safeway. Middle and high school students will have a chance to become a "router," as they help build a delivery route for multiple pallets of product, and get to see how they're built by "selectors" and loaded on the warehouse floor.

"Kids will build a route from order to delivery, literally put two and two together," Graham said.

It's actually more of a test of spacial relations. Students will be able to use "puzzle logic" to load the various sizes of pallets for different customers and deliver them on time.

"It's not as simple as it sounds on the surface, to get product from point A to point B; there's a lot of steps to make it happen accurately and quickly," Graham said.

What does he hope to pass along to students?

"Not to be afraid of math and puzzle logic," Graham said, "to really understand that you can do a lot with that. Just make sure you're applying yourself."

STEM Fest activities

All STEM Fest activities are free, with many suited for certain ages. To register for specific events, visit http://stem-fest.com.

All ages:

• Family STEM Night, 4 to 8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at Lower Columbia College, 1600 Maple St., Longview.

• "STEM Possibilities: A Discussion on Key STEM Initiatives," 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at Educational Service District 112, 2500 N.E. 65th Ave., Vancouver. Registration recommended.

• Dr. Scott Burns on "The Mystery of Willamette Valley Geology, Climate and Soil and its Relationship to Fine Wine," 6:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, at Cellar55, 1812 Washington St., Vancouver.

• Clark College STEM Expo, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Clark College, Gaiser Hall, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver.

• What's in Your Water? Water Quality Testing, 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Gaiser Pond, 3000 N.E. 99th St., Vancouver. Registration recommended.

• Sturgeon Festival, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Water Resources Education Center. Live reptile show at 10:30 a.m., fish dissection at noon, and Eartha the Ecological Clown at 1:30 p.m.

• Family Wormshop, 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 21, at Columbia Springs, 12208 S.E. Evergreen Highway, Vancouver. Registration recommended.

• Day in the Life of a Police Officer: Open House, Noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Clark County Sheriff's Office, 505 N.W. 179th St., Ridgefield.

• Where does all of the garbage go? 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Waste Connections Transfer Station, 9411 N.E. 94th Ave., Vancouver. Registration recommended.

Middle school and high school students:

• Become a Conservation Scientist, 10 a.m. to noon and 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, 612 E. Reserve St., Vancouver. Limited to 10 students each session, registration required.

• Building Routes in the Transportation Industry, 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at UNFI, 7909 S. Union Ridge Parkway, Ridgefield. Registration recommended

High school students:

• Building Science Tour, 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at New Traditions Homes, 11815 N.E. 113th St. #110, Vancouver. Registration recommended.

• Lab Simulations, 1 to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21, at Charter College, 17200 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver. Registration recommended.

Download the full public schedule at http://swwdc.org/documents/pdf/STEMFestEventCalendar.pdf