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The City Journals

STEMfest showcases important partnership

Oct 31, 2016 04:32PM ● By Travis Barton

Justin Clawson demonstrates his meteorology skills as he shows how the weather station works on Oct. 11 at Neil Armstrong Academy. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | [email protected]

West Valley, Utah - Neil Armstrong Academy celebrated its first STEMfest on Oct. 11 that included both the school carnival and a community partnership celebration. 

The day originated out of a desire to connect with the community, creating an activity that brings community members, industry and businesses together to learn about STEM. 

“A lot of parents have kids going to a STEM school and have no idea what that means,” said Mysti Hedquist, fifth grade teacher and the person instrumental in organizing the events. 

Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) schools are known for making learning a collaborative and project-based process. Students work together to problem solve. STEMfest was an opportunity to thank their business partnerships while celebrating their fall festival. 

A community involvement event was held in the afternoon where community partners such as Orbital ATK, Comcast and John Horel, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, came to speak with the students. 

“Things are always made better by those who understand science, technology, engineering and math…make sure you study those things and do everything you can to be good at them,” Andy Haaland said to the students. Haaland is the director of business development at Orbital ATK, a company focused on the development and application of space technologies on earth. 

Students used the opportunity to ask Haaland questions from how chemicals are made to how a payload is released from a rocket. 

“You see how much [the kids] love that—they crave the real—and having those opportunities for them to interact with somebody in the industry, it’s just beautiful,” Principal Matt Goebel said. 

Community involvement will soon be reaching cell phones through a mobile app. Brent Peterson from Comcast explained to students and teachers about the STEM Mentor Exchange, an app that connects Utah educators with industry mentors and resources. Developed by a volunteer team of engineers from Dell, it’s a joint effort with Utah technology groups to help prepare kids for new jobs being created in Utah. 

Robert Goodick is a member of the Neil Armstrong Academy Community Council and has a child that attends the school. 

“(This) lets the kids know that we’re trying to develop their brains on how to think critically for jobs and careers in industries that don’t even exist yet,” Goodick said. “Creating those conversations with industry professionals, for me as a parent, that’s the most exciting part.”

Goodick was instrumental in working with Professor Horel of the University of Utah to bring a weather station to Neil Armstrong that is viewed as a legitimate data point for meteorologists throughout the state. Students use the station to learn and work with the data provided as part of the school’s inquiry based education. 

Goebel said it’s hugely important for schools to have these partnerships, especially at a STEM school. 

“By saying we are a STEM school we are saying you will have connections to the industries and broader community,” Goebel said. 

Horel said researchers look for schools like Neil Armstrong to partner with because of the way they engage their students. 

Goebel said it takes time to change curriculums and mindsets about school, but believes everybody will be teaching this way soon. Hedquist said it can be intimidating as a teacher, but by teaching this way it requires creativity to access those resources. 

“Being able to be at a STEM school that’s focused on those resources and have that connection to the community already, it makes it so much easier,” Hedquist said. 

Utah State House Representative Sophia Dicaro has a child who attends Neil Armstrong and said it’s one of the schools leading by example. 

“This is a good incubator for what’s happening in the STEM world…If this can demonstrate to the state that this can be successful, I think it will speak volumes to the industry because it keeps higher paying jobs here,” Dicaro said. 

STEMfest capped off the evening with the school carnival. The festival included activities both inside and out. While food trucks, bounce houses, a rock climbing wall and a dunk tank were outside; the inside held activities of a different variety. 

Granite School District, Clark Planetarium and University of Utah had booths where people could engineer chicken noises and make toy rockets, boats and Morse code with everyday items such as duct tape, rubber bands, round foam and popsicle sticks.