Muscatine, IA, Journal: Engaging Future Engineers--Event Touts Benefits of STEM Instruction

Monday, May 6, 2013
By Joe Jarosz
Muscatine Journal

A little rain on Saturday wasn’t going to stop Muscatine area school children from learning about the advantages and perks of pursuing a career in engineering.

Rain came and went throughout the day during Saturday’s STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) Festival at the at the Lucille A. Carver Mississippi Riverside Environmental Research Station (LACMRERS) on the banks of the Mississippi River near Muscatine. Area businesses and representatives from the University of Iowa offered fun activities, free to the public, to teach kids about science, technology, engineering and math.

A total of 22 representatives touted the benefits of a STEM education including HNI Corp., the Blue Zones Project, Stanley Consultants and many more. Volunteers for the festival said they expected as many as 1,000 people to attend. Douglas Schnoebelen, director of LACMRERS, said it was great to have so many people in Muscatine help organize the first STEM Festival. He said there’s many competing interests out there for children, but believes if a continual effort is made to help interest them in science or engineering, then a STEM career is possible.

“I think if we started early in school, that will keep the students interested longer,” Schnoebelen said.

Since all the booths were outside, one that probably didn’t mind the rain was the Iowa Flood Center which was teaching children about the advantages and disadvantages for various ways to protect land from flooding. By using sponges, Matt Wunsch, with the center, demonstrated that when Iowa was mostly wetlands, the soil would soak up the rain. Now, he explained, with the many cities and concrete roads in Iowa, “water doesn’t absorb into the soil as easily which causes flooding.”

“Levee’s are one way to protect an area but the levee only protects one specific area, which could cause massive flooding in the non-protected area,” Wunsch said. “Some towns like Des Moines and Coralville built reservoirs which collect and release water with more control.”

With the help of an action figure and some electricity, representatives for Muscatine Power and Water, demonstrated the dangers of power lines. The Muscatine High School robotics club showed curious children that if they were to join their club once they get to high school, they could build robots like the one they had on display, a remote controlled robot that would move back and forth in an attempt to grab plastic rings off a pole.

Jacob Morrow, 11, attends Grant Elementary School. He said the robotics club, lego table and the oobleck area were probably his favorite areas. An oobleck is, if correctly made from cornstarch and water, a liquid that is flexible enough to allow a person to rapidly walk over its surface. Morrow, to the displeasure of his mother, said he’ll maybe try to make it at home.

Isabelle and Gabrielle Hartman, 10 and 13 respectively, said they wanted to attend the festival because they love science. Gabrielle said her mother Karen Hartman, is a science teacher at Colorado and that she wants to be an engineer when she grows up. She said her interest in science stems from the idea that you can question everything.

“You can see a dandelion and just appreciate it or you can learn how, through photosynthesis it grows and gain a better understanding of it,” Gabrielle said.

Gabrielle said a couple of her her favorite stations at the event included a water testing area and the Iowa Flood Center demonstration.

“More kids should be interested in science and engineering, especially more girls,” Gabrielle said.