Looking Back on the Fall 2019 STEM Showcase

This story was written by Victoria Muir and Sandra Obeng.

As AIChE prepares for its first Virtual STEM Outreach Competition, members of the K-12 Committee reflected on the success of the inaugural event in 2019.

At the November 2019 AIChE Annual Meeting and Annual Student Conference in Orlando, FL, AIChE’s K-12 Committee hosted the First Annual K-12 STEM Showcase and Outreach Competition. The K-12 Committee, chaired by Lucas Landherr and Madeline Mueller (interview with them here), along with AIChE staff members prepared for months to bring over 100 local grade school students, parents, educators, and dozens of AIChE volunteers together for the day-long event. The Showcase provided a unique opportunity to inspire K-12 students to become the next generation of successful chemical engineers.

When students, parents, and teachers arrived at the event, they were greeted by an enthusiastic team of AIChE members. Attendees received lab coats, goggles, gloves, stickers, and take-home materials. K-12 students received blank cards posing questions such as “What is a chemical engineer?” and “How do chemical engineers contribute to society?” Students filled out the cards as the day got started by talking to AIChE volunteers and learning about the profession. Completed cards were collected and placed on a “What is a Chemical Engineer?” wall to display the exciting new things students learned about chemical engineering.

Speakers, demonstrations, and activities

Cristina Thomas of 3M delivered an inspiring speech about the future of chemical engineering, and the 3M Visiting Wizards wowed the audience with exciting science demos on stage. From there, K-12 students interacted with AIChE members by engaging in hands-on STEM activities.

Prior to the K-12 STEM Showcase, the K-12 Committee conducted AIChE’s first-ever K-12 STEM Module Competition. Teams of undergraduate students and professional members from AIChE groups submitted original entries that demonstrated STEM principles to the K-12 audience. Sixteen teams were selected as finalists, and presented their interactive STEM activities to students at the module competition.

During the interactive modules, AIChE volunteers served as judges to evaluate the activities presented by the 16 finalists. The University of Utah Student Chapter won First Place in the undergraduate team category for demonstrating how to build an air-quality sensor using toy building blocks. The Mid-Michigan Local Section won First Place in the professional team category by presenting a module on surface tension using pennies and droplets of water. The interactive modules developed by all teams are being posted online at the K-12 Community web site

After engaging in interactive demos, the students, parents, and educators participated in a Lunch & Learn event, where they talked with AIChE volunteers about pursuing careers in chemical engineering. The winners of the K-12 STEM Module Competition were also announced. Showcase attendees finished the day by heading over to the undergraduate AIChE Chem-E-Car Competition and watching chemical engineering in action.

This year's virtual K-12 STEM Showcase

The First Annual K-12 STEM Showcase was a huge success, as students and volunteers enjoyed a day full of science, learning, inspiration, and fun. The Second K-12 STEM Showcase will take place online during the 2020 Virtual AIChE Student Conference, scheduled for November 15, 2020. The Showcase will be held virtually to increase access and participation for K-12 students, parents, and educators. Stay tuned for upcoming announcements about attending the virtual event. As the deadline approaches, there are already more than 60 submissions!

Undergraduate AIChE Student Chapters and AIChE professional members can submit modules for the 2020 K-12 STEM Module Competition. Finalists will be selected to present their modules virtually during the Showcase.

AIChE members interested in volunteering to help run the K-12 STEM Showcase and Module Competition can learn about available opportunities by contacting k12outreach.aiche@gmail.com.