Ten to 13 years old may seem young to be thinking about a career, but students and staff at Stony Brook University came up with a fun way Saturday to show dozens of Long Island youngsters that isn’t necessarily true.
Discover STEM Day, organized by the university’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, aimed to open the eyes of elementary and middle school students to possibilities in the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. From computer animation and programming to model design, the students learned how the ways they play today could lead to a profession in accessible and in-demand fields in the future.
“Who knew you could make models your entire life?” asked Christine Veloso, director of Science and Technology Entry Programs at Stony Brook University, which hosted Saturday’s event. “I think that’s pretty cool, pretty awesome.”
Inclusivity was a theme of the day. Annisha Wazed, the society's campus president, was encouraged to look out at the crowd and see mostly young girls, many of them attending with local Girl Scout troops.
Wazed, who studies electrical engineering and will work in aviation after graduation next month, explained that women are a minority in engineering fields. For that reason, outreach events with youth are important to her.
“I hope that they would be encouraged to go into a career in engineering and hopefully get involved with more science,” Wazed said. “It’s not all hard math and it doesn’t mean you’re a nerd.”
Veloso agreed there’s something for everyone in science and technology fields. She hopes events like Discover STEM Day “provide the spark” for students interested in learning.
“The more we can introduce the idea that science is so much broader than biology, chemistry, physics and earth science...the more we'll be able to impact the diversity that exists,” Veloso said.
Veloso said STEM teaches kids problem-solving skills that help them break down the barriers of learning and “makes them more prepared for job markets after graduation.” There is also high demand for workers in many STEM fields offering higher pay at the entry level and with less of a salary gender gap, she said.
Student volunteers from campus clubs, some with a focus on diversity, led the kids in breakout groups where they learned through hands-on activities.
When a member of the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers explained the students would be making slime, the youngsters let out a collective “yay” that was slightly drowned out by the groan of parents experienced in the cleanup of such an activity. In other groups, kids learned about Minecraft robots, 3D printing, LED lighting and creating their own batteries.
“Science and tech is fun,” said Wazed, a graduate of Longwood High School in Middle Island. “You can do beautiful things like making toys. It has science behind it, but it can be a beautiful thing.”