Sunday, March 10, 2024

The March Madness of STEM Learning Hit Licking County


March Madness is upon us.  From my point of view, it’s already hit Licking County.  Three days of STEMfest! at The Works recently took place in downtown Newark and really brought a spotlight to how much STEM learning is part of our day to day.

STEMfest! has always been the science equivalent of a basketball tournament. Fueled by the energy of our kids learning about the value of science, technology, engineering, and math skills in a hands-on way, the 2024 edition didn’t disappoint.

Over 1,000 people went through the doors at The Works coupled with demonstrations by a dozen local manufacturers.  There were 100 teams from four counties, including students from public and private schools from most of Licking County’s school districts competing in industry challenges.

Our Licking County version of STEM learning has the greatest value because of local relevance.  There are places to learn STEM skills and there are places to work that need those STEM skills. 

Our industries crave STEM skills.  I’m glad to share just three examples on the Port Authority campus in Heath how STEM ties into their day, though it was really hard to stop at just three. 

Kaiser Aluminum’s hot rolled aluminum is a niche process that provides the strength essential to aircraft.  The metallurgical science involved is unique to Kaiser in Heath.

MISTRAS Group sees all of the metal for Space X rockets stream through their doors. Ultrasound, submersion, and x-ray techniques are the technologies behind their material testing processes.

Boeing inertial guidance systems require the precision ability to hit the equivalent accuracy of a pencil point on a football field.  Engineering aided by decimal point levels of math is what make their gyroscopes work.

STEM learning is what makes STEM careers happen.

Though inspiration for a STEM career can come from just about anywhere—that next door neighbor who tinkers in his garage to that aunt who leads a local manufacturer--it’s the school experience that counts. 

That’s why I’m impressed by Newark City Schools and their approach.  For more than a dozen years, Newark has embraced STEM in all grades.  Pre-engineering and robotics hit middle schools 10 years ago.  Advanced classes in engineering, math, computer science, and physics are now commonplace.  Newark’s STEM summer camp offerings are icing on the curriculum cake. 

Par Excellence STEM Academy is all-in on STEM too.  The school rebranded with STEM in a big way this school year.  Par has embraced engineering and project-based learning approaches that are already gathering attention.  National attention.  Later this month, Par’s elementary school students will meet one of our local company leaders to learn about brain tissue research.  Yes, brain tissue research is happening in Licking County and, now, it’s being demonstrated to fourth graders.

It’s important we keep introducing the next generation to the value of STEM learning and STEM careers.  The Works STEMfest! is a vehicle for that and has been for 15 years.

March Madness has already come to Licking County.


This column is a regular development column for the Newark Advocate.

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