5th Annual STEAM Conference: Where Students Become Instructors

Over 1000 participants attended the 5th Annual STEAM Conference at Northeastern University of Illinois on May 2nd, 2015.

Five years ago, Marcelo Caplan, Columbia College Chicago Associate Professor of the Science and Mathematics Department and Co-founder of Scientists for Tomorrow (SfT), and Aaron Cortes, TRIO Upward Bound Math & Science (UBMS) Director, had an idea. “Why don’t we get our teens to teach other teens?” they thought.

This idea was the catalyst for the first STEAM Conference, a conference where students have the opportunity to teach other students the value of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics through hands on activities.

After months of preparation, more than 200 presenters from various middle and high schools in Chicago represented their educational institutions and organizations by teaching more than 30 hands-on workshops to middle and high school students and parents.

The conference, a result of the partnership between Columbia College Chicago and Northeastern Illinois University, also held two bilingual parent workshops where parents taught other parents the basics of open and close circuits as well as an introduction to the computer field.

Bus after bus, students, parents and instructors packed the auditorium where Marcelo Caplan, SfT co-founder, Evelyn Oropeza, SfT program coordinator, and Aaron Cortes, UBMS director, presided the opening ceremony.

As the opening ceremony progressed, Marcelo Caplan emphasized the importance of events of this nature. “We want to be part of this new model of citizens,” Caplan, 52 said.  “The citizens that understand that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are important and we need to integrate it also with the arts.”  

Science spread through the auditorium as soon as Caplan put his goggles on! Lava flowed from test tubes, water disappeared from a cup after adding a secret ingredient and ultraviolet LED torches lighted up the room.  The audience cheered and clapped as each experiment took shape, but this was only the beginning of a day full of learning.

After the opening ceremony, participants received a program catalogue where they could choose between more than 30 activities to participate in. The opportunities were endless! Some ran to the robotics competition, while others couldn’t wait to build their own monochord, multi color LED, solar USB charger or blast off rocket.

Sixteen-year-old Whitney Young High School student, Noami Guerrero, presented an energy workshop where students built a solar USB charger by studying the laws of electricity and the importance of non-renewable resources. “That presentation was nothing like what I normally do at school,” Guerrero said. “I normally just stand there and say information, and nobody is listening, but here people come voluntarily. It’s just more fun for the presenter and the audience if they are both interested in what they are talking about.” Apart from interacting with an engaged audience, Guerrero believes the conference exposes students to different forms of science and shows them how to apply it in the real world. Guerrero plans to continue studying science after high school and is already looking for in-state physics or electronics college programs.

Duke Ellington and Ella Flygg Young instructor, Geri Catto, brought her students to the conference for them to experience science from a different angle. “They get to see things that they wouldn’t normally see in their science classroom,” Catto said. For her it’s inspiring to see her students present and participate in a different role where they teach other students what they have learned in their SfT after school program.

While her kids participated in the student workshops, Josefina Chavez, Frida Kahlo Community Organization parent, taught other parents an activity called the “Magic Brain.” In this workshop parents explored energy, electricity and how to design an electric game. As a presenter she takes home the satisfaction of motivating other parents to get involved in their children’s’ educational experience.  “All the parents have the capacity of learning,” Chavez, 46 said.

After hours of workshops, Marcelo Caplan, thanked students, parents and instructors for participating in the only conference that allows students to play the role of instructors.  

Students took home their finalized projects and participation certificates, while presenters received a recommendation letter for their effort and dedication.

Scientists for Tomorrow and TRIO Upward Bound Science & Mathematics programs look forward to the next STEAM Conference on May 7th, 2016! 

To watch the video click here: https://vimeo.com/127613959