In its young history, the USA Science & Engineering Festival's X-STEM Symposium, sponsored by MedImmune, has already become well known for bringing kids up close and personal with some of most renowned and inspiring minds in STEM. The event once again lived up to its reputation with flair and excitement on April 28 when more than 4,000 6th-12th-grade students traveled to the Washington, D.C. Convention Center for the 2nd X-STEM Symposium.
Amazing, fascinating and inspirational are just some of the superlatives that students used to describe the X-STEM experience after spending an entire day engaged in interactive learning workshops with over 30 leading luminaries in STEM. Such innovators included: Megan Smith, United States Chief Technology Officer at the White House; Dean Kamen, Inventor and Founder of FIRST; Dr. Irwin Jacobs, Founder of Qualcomm; Dr. Aprille Ericsson, NASA aerospace engineer, Dr. Reginald Brothers, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Department of Homeland Security, 19-year-old inventor Easton LaChappelle, and 13-year-old Alyssa Carson, NASA "Blueberry" astronaut in training.
"The 2015 X-STEM Symposium was amazing!" exclaimed Kaylee Torgesen, a junior at Great Mills High School in Great Mills, Maryland. "Each presenter was different, and each had his or her own style of explaining their particular topic, making each new workshop or talk unique and engaging," she said. "It was amazing to see that anyone, young or old, can do great things. All you have to do is be curious and determined."
Her excitement about X-STEM was echoed by sophomore Joey Crawford. "Because of being able to see what people with an education in STEM do," he said,"I am more interested in learning and excited about what I can do after and during high school in STEM-related fields like robotics, neuroscience, energy, and even teaching."
Teachers also benefitted from the interactive learning experiences. "The symposium served to reignite passion in teachers like myself as well as to inspire the next generation of STEM professionals," said Great Mills High School teacher Allen Skinner. "The opportunity to meet first-hand with scientists and engineers that are doing exciting, interesting, and important work is invaluable. There were several times during the day where I was saying to myself -- 'I want to do that when I grow up!' I can safely say -- eyes, mouths, and minds were opened at the 2015 X-STEM Symposium."
Such enthusiastic feedback will provide further momentum for X-STEM as it moves forward in inspiring future participants, says Marc Schulman, Executive Director of the USA Science & Engineering Festival. "I stand humbled by the amazing comments and praise we have received following the event. I look forward to continuing that energy at the 2016 Festival."
This includes providing students with more interactive experiences with leading innovators that young learners came to love at this year's symposium -- exciting presenters like 19-year-old robotic arm innovator Easton LaChappelle; Princeton University physicist Dr. Andrew Zwicker; surgical roboticist Carol Reiley; Dr. Greg Gage, biomedical engineer and neuroscientist; and Tyler Dewitt, MIT microbiologist and high school science educator, who were among the favorites at X-STEM 2015.
Comments from students reveal that it was the interactive engagements with such speakers that made the symposium especially rewarding. "For example," said sophomore Philip Do, "Greg Gage's presentation demonstrated how neural signals in the brain could be monitored and stimulated, and he showed this knowledge by controlling the movement of cockroaches through stimulation of their antennae and, in a demonstration, how this method can be used to allow one person's thoughts to control the movements of another person. "
Said Corey Williams, also a sophomore: "My favorite talk of the day was given by Andrew Zwicker who spoke about fusion energy. I thought it was a very interesting topic and learned about how close they were to actually making this form of clean energy useable and how safe it is."
For sophomore Kaylee Canales, it was Easton LaChappelle's presentation on his robotic arm invention that was especially inspiring. "He changed my outlook on my future completely," she said. "When he explained to us that something he made in his bedroom could change the lives of many, it really showed me that I can make a difference in the world. Hearing about making a difference is one thing, but actually seeing a success story right in front of you is incredible! The most shocking part of it all was learning that he was only 19 years old! He truly showed that I can do anything I put my mind to."
(To read more student experiences from the X-STEM Symposium, follow our blog.)
Another big hit at the Symposium (and designed to treat the participating innovators like the STEM heroes and heroines that they are): Students were issued trading cards of the speakers which the kids could keep or trade like baseball cards among themselves, and even get autographed by the star scientists and engineers!
"By using the trading card theme we are able to provide a take-home piece of memorabilia that provides some fun personal facts about our presenters, " says Marc Schulman. The cards were so popular that not a single one was left by the end of the symposium. Some students also took extra ones home for siblings who could not attend, and students on Twitter even reportedly traded some cards!
Stay tuned to our newsletter and social media for details on the 2016 X-STEM Symposium which kicks off the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival on April 14, 2016!