Ask people around the United States to identify a STEM professional and many draw a blank. What they don’t realize is that people are doing STEM work all day, every day, says Cynthia Hall, co-chair of the annual Charleston STEM Festival.
“A nurse could be considered a STEM professional, so could a mechanic,” she says. “We’re raising awareness to all the different STEM jobs found in our daily lives and how relevant they are to so many different people.”
STEM – short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics – is getting a lot of attention in educational circles. But it’s more than a buzzword. It’s an idea that’s absolutely critical to children’s future, Hall says.
“This is where we're headed as a nation,” she says. “There are so many different opportunities for students that involve STEM. STEM is critical for our future work force both here in Charleston and nationally.”
The Charleston STEM Festival, set for Feb. 11 at Brittlebank Park, attracted 10,000 people in 2016. More than 62 exhibitors offered hands-on STEM experiences and learning opportunities for students from elementary to high school.
Started in 2014 as an initiative of the Lowcountry STEM Collaborative, the festival continues to grow each year, attracting more attendees as well community partners. Boeing, Bosch, Google and Nucor are major sponsors of the event, along with a host of other businesses, organizations and schools, including the College of Charleston and The Citadel.
The festival coincides with Storm the Citadel in which students of all ages are invited to participate in engineering-related events and competitions, include bridge building, robotics, water bottle rockets and trebuchet (a type of catapult). Those attending the STEM Festival can head to The Citadel to watch the trebuchet competition, also scheduled for Feb. 11.
For parents who haven’t truly considered STEM education, putting the Charleston STEM Festival on the calendar is important for three key reasons:
1. STEM is the future.
- Children need to be exposed to career possibilities and professionals currently working in these jobs.
“If there’s a lack of role models, why would children consider a STEM job as a career choice?” says Glenda La Rue, festival co-chair. “That’s one reason we bring the festival to Charleston – to make the face of a STEM professional more accessible to everybody.”
2. STEM careers are typically high-paying and readily available.
- La Rue points out that as baby boomers retire from STEM jobs, there aren’t enough young people coming up behind them to fill the gaps. And with Charleston’s growth in these industries, it means there’s a great opportunity for the next generation to have a real impact on the local economy.
“Google, Nucor, Boeing – they are having to import talent,” La Rue says. “We need to raise awareness and help students and parents understand the resources we have here locally. If they are not made aware of them, how can we expect they will stay here?”
3. STEM offers great opportunities for women and minorities.
- By exposing these groups to what’s available and showing them female and minority role models, they can see how they might fit into these career options.
“With STEM jobs, there’s this perception of working with numbers in a room by yourself,” La Rue says. “But every STEM job I can think of has an impact. Especially for women and minority groups, their work needs to be socially impactful and they need to know the work has meaning and is contributing to quality of life.”
The Charleston STEM Festival is 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11 at Brittlebank Park in downtown Charleston. Exhibitors will provide hands-on activities, plus there will be live entertainment and demonstrations, food trucks and more. Learn more at CharlestonSTEMFest.org.