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The 2014 NOVA STEM Alliance career festival

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“There are several STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) events here in the Washington DC area. What makes ours unique is that we actually have a panel for you the parents to get a better understanding of how to get your children involved in STEM,” said Marcel Anderson, coordinator of the NOVA STEM Alliance career festival. “These STEM professionals will answer any questions you may have.”

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On May 17, the third annual NOVA STEM Alliance career festival took place. The event was hosted in conjunction with the Alexandria-Fairfax chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, and Mount Vernon High School. The event featured professionals from the fields of astronomy, pharmacology/toxicology, engineering, robotics, information technology, a who talked about their careers and gave demonstrations to students in attendance about their areas of expertise.

“Like many of the youth in my age group, I was inspired by the movie Top Gun and wanted to be a pilot just like Tom Cruise,” Mr. Anderson continued. “My mother told me that I had to be good at math in order to become a pilot which surprised me at the time and made me unfortunately reconsider that idea because I didn’t know that I could excel in that area.”

“I’m not a STEM professional myself, but seeing as how many of the future jobs in the global market are going to be in that area, I am strongly encouraging my own kids to get involved with it,” said Jared Hennings, one of the moderators of the parents panel.

Among the questions asked at the first parent’s panel titled, “Pathways to STEM,” included:

• If my child already has an inclination towards STEM, how do I further that interest?
• If my child doesn’t have an interest in STEM, how can I spark that interest?
• What challenges were faced on the road towards you STEM career?
• What if my child gets discouraged early on because they struggle in math?

Answers varied from panelists but there were common stories among them including:

• The help and guidance from a mentor.
• The presences of someone who helped make STEM fun for them at an early age.
• The importance of instilling the work ethic and perseverance to continue along the pursuit of the career when the idea to give up arises.

It was also impressed upon the parents that exposure is the key, and setting up the conditions for their children to dream about a career in a STEM field. There was a second panel session titled, “STEM Sustainability.”

“What happens to an astronaut’s body when try to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere?” was one of the many questions asked in the gymnasium of Mount Vernon High school where students who attended the festival were taken to multiple stations where they played with robots, learned about satellite communications, looked at biological specimens under microscopes, and created STEM related art. Among the groups who facilitated these demonstrations were the Art Way Alliance, the Friends of the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium, Net-Centric Solutions, and others.

“I learned that because there is no gravity in outer space, astronauts have to learn how to perform surgeries under those conditions. I learned about robots. I learned about different programming codes and how satellite dishes transmit signals,” were among the responses at the end of the festival when the students were debriefed about what they learned.

The festival was both free and open to the public, and was designed to expose students to STEM careers. There is a quite a bit of talk about how the United States is falling behind other countries in terms of STEM educations. For more information about the NOVA STEM alliance and upcoming events, visit the website at www.novastemalliance.com, and or follow the NOVA STEM Alliance on Twitter using the handle @NOVASTEM.

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