From constellations to cockroaches, SUU’s ‘STEAM Festival’ delights young crowds

CEDAR CITY — The third annual “STEAM Festival” at Southern Utah University attracted more than 3,300 area schoolchildren, organizers said.

Monday evening, during the three-hour period the festival was open to the public, the crowds were not quite as big as they had been earlier in the day, when hundreds of young students on field trips from local elementary and middles schools packed the ballroom area of the Sharwan Smith Student Center at SUU. Even so, most of the booths and activity stations at the festival saw a steady stream of interested patrons throughout the day.

Bill Heyborne, director of SUU Center for STEM Teaching and Learning and an associate professor of biology, said the two-day event featured “lots of hands-on STEAM activities … everything from live animals to a virtual reality ride, an indoor planetarium and everything in between.”

Heyborne used the acronyms STEAM and STEM almost interchangeably, as they both refer to the learning areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. STEAM has one more letter, an “A” thrown in for art.

Heyborne said the purpose of the festival is to keep young students interested in STEM/STEAM learning.

“(We’re) trying to keep kids excited in STEM fields, hoping then that they’ll pursue STEM careers, (and) hoping they’ll pursue STEM programs in college,” he said, noting that kids as young as kindergarten age also participated.

Modeled after similar successful programs held along the Wasatch Front, the Southern Utah STEAM Festival was also sponsored by the Walter Maxwell Gibson College of Science and Engineering at SUU.

Other popular hands-on activities at the festival included a slackline, rock and mineral specimens, a device that projected a topographic map onto a malleable pile of sand. On stage, kids could pound out rhythms on any one of two dozen different drums.

The SUU Animal Ambassadors club brought several exotic animals to the festival, including boa constrictors and other snakes, tortoises, lizards, geckos, tarantulas and even giant cockroaches from Madagascar.

Many inquisitive youngsters gently petted the animals as they asked questions about them, reacting with delight to the critters’ movements.

“As club members, we go around and educate people about our animals, a lot of which are donations,” SUU student Taylor Henselen said of the Animal Ambassadors.

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