By Marc Brown
On October 27th, the 3rd annual STEM Festival at the Clearwater Campus took visitors under the waves with dolphin ethograms and submersible ROVs, and into the skies with catapults and drones. Well, not literally. However, several booths set up by volunteers from a myriad of local STEM-related industries and clubs provided guests the opportunity to experience some hands-on learning with hexaflexagons and ask all those burning questions about waste-water and the recycling process.
Volunteers such as Shea Dunifon, the education coordinator for Pinellas County Cross Bayou Treatment Plant, were on standby with 3D printed models of their entire facility. Dunifon notes, “3D is all the rage. One of the challenges of being educational is you kind of have to stay on the front wave of what’s going on, and with STEM a lot of people are doing 3D printing.” There was also an interactive sanitary sewer system beneath a plastic replica town to illustrate how water that leaves our home through drains travels through manholes and underground pipes to arrive at the wastewater treatment plant. The model even included a battery-powered pump operated at the flick of a switch.
Piquing the interest of young people with flashy models and colorful illustrations was a common strategy at the festival. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium provided a matching game to guests, challenging them to match the fins of dolphins to their respective owners while a volunteer sprinkled in facts about how the dolphins, like Wifi and Vulcan, got the unique scars they are identified by. MOSI drew crowds with demonstrations using liquid nitrogen, including trapping the chemical in a plastic tube until the gases expanded and blew the lid off the top.
Katie Sklaver is a volunteer with Mad Science. Mad Science comes to schools and events to provide fun, interactive learning experiences to children and adults with an interest in science. She discussed vibrating air molecules and soundwaves while manipulating slinkys and heating up metal tubes with a blow torch.
Organizing all of this was Kay Morgan, the event coordinator. She said that this was their most successful year yet, with a turnout of over 800 people. Thanks to her help and others, the Provost gave funding to expand the Virtual Reality program, making it more immersive for students. Prospective SPC students who attended the event were also lucky enough to have their college application fee waived. Morgan has since moved to the Midtown Campus where she is focused on expanding the STEM program options on campus and increasing minority interest in STEM careers. With her help, there should be many more exciting, new things to try at next year’s STEM Festival.