STEM Festival brings interactive science experience to NIU


Students make paper planes during STEMfest Saturday at the NIU Convocation Center. STEMfest celebrates science, technology, engineering and mathematics with hands-on activities, exhibitions and more.

By Shadonna Merriweather

What turned out to be a morning full of heavy rain, dark clouds and ankle high puddles settled into an afternoon that kids could not resist.

NIU’s Haunted Physics Laboratory metamorphosed into Spooky Science Saturday and was geared toward teaching little ones interesting facts about science.

The Halloween-centered event is NIU’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Festival and it was held at the NIU Convocation Center. From the different groups that came out to provide awareness of community funded programs, newly interactive games and the environment, the kids had very little limitation of what could be used. 

“Our goal is to get students involved and provide a fun way to introduce technology,” said Vanessa Zuniga, senior art education major.

The Art Café introduced a new virtual identity guide implemented in the art classes. Within the virtual 3D world, artwork from students is showcased and able to be viewed by anyone with the proper location of what the student has created. 

“The kids like it,” Zuniga said “They think of it more as a game and want to learn it even though it’s educational.” 

Also joining the event was the Midwest Museum of Natural History.

“We’re here to bring awareness about the museum and get attendance,” said Eric Sester, employee at the Midwest Museum of Natural History.

A fear of insects and bugs was also addressed.

“We’re here dispelling myths about creepy crawlies,” said Molly Holman, Executive Director at the Midwest Museum of Natural History. “They’re just misunderstood.”

Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford was also in attendance, where it exhibited dinosaur fossils. The museum station had pictures of Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex, located at the Field Museum in Chicago.

“Sue is the largest dinosaur fossil found, and she’s almost complete,” said Scott Williams, director of Exhibits and Science at Burpee Museum of Natural History. 

There was a demonstration of a volunteer showing a real eyeball and cutting it in half to let kids see the inside, where the retina and lens were located. The volunteer also passed out gloves so that the kids could touch it.

One station presented the Outreach NIU-EEP Program funded by the Motorola Foundation located at NIU’s Naperville campus. The program is geared towards reaching both middle school and high school girls.

“Through the mentoring program the girls have gotten to meet lots of other girls and the turnout has been pretty good,” said Suma Rajashankar, assistant professor within the College of Engineering.