More than 800 seventh- and eighth-graders hailing from across Bucks County were supposed to convene at Delaware Valley University this month for the second annual iSTEAMM conference.
Presented by United Way of Bucks County and Bucks County Intermediate Unit, the all-day event allows the students to hear directly from professionals in the fields of science, technology, engineering, art, math and manufacturing, and ultimately get a jumpstart on thinking about future careers.
As with the majority of large-scale events, an in-person iSTEAMM was simply out of the question due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But leadership at both organizations refused to deny local tweens this rare opportunity.
This year, iSTEAMM will be hosted online on May 21, starting at 9:30 a.m. Students can access the free, hour-long program via a private link available through their science teacher.
“It was online or we couldn’t bring that kind of a program to students in Bucks County,” said Marissa Christie, president and CEO of United Way of Bucks County. “Initially, we felt a little disappointed to know that we couldn’t host iSTEAMM and we couldn’t bring students together. But the more we thought about it, the more we realized that there are going to be ways to bring some exciting online content to potentially more students.”
The “exciting online content” referred to by Christie includes a special guest appearance by Miss America 2020, Camille Schrier. The Bucks County native and biochemist, who’s pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy degree at Virginia Commonwealth University, made history when she presented a chemistry demonstration as her talent during the Miss America competition.
During iSTEAMM, Schrier will share live science demonstrations (one of which can be tried at home by participants), talk about the importance of STEM education and answer questions submitted by students.
“To me, one of the great things about our current Miss America Camille is that she really forged her own path. She decided to do a science demonstration as her talent because she sees herself first and foremost as a woman of science. She’s a biochemist. She’s getting a doctorate in pharmacy. That’s what she is most passionate about,” Christie said.
Christie’s hope is that iSTEAMM is a memorable experience for students and, thanks to Schrier, they take away the knowledge that anyone can do anything they set their mind to if they put the work in.
“She’s young and she’s dynamic and she does a beautiful job explaining chemistry and chemical reactions in a way I think almost anyone can understand,” Christie said. “So, a combination of her unique presence, her individuality and showing that you can be who you are, you get to pick your path, but also her great, great passion for science, and chemistry and pharmacy in particular, I think that’s exciting to bring to students.”
Every school that participates will be entered into a raffle to win one of two prizes – $5,000 to put toward their school’s STEM education; or a one-week residency of the Mobile Fab Lab at their school, a project run by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit that gives students hands-on experience using 3D printers and other high-tech mobile fabrication devices. The winning schools will be announced at the conclusion of iSTEAMM by Schrier.
The prizes were made possible by the following sponsors: PECO, Comcast, Langan Engineering, Penn Community Bank, PPL Electric Utilities, Solvay, SUEZ Water Technologies & Solutions and UGI Electric Utilities.
“We hope Bucks County students enjoy this. We are as excited as our schools to find out who the winners are going to be of those big prizes. We think that’s going to be very exciting,” said Christie. “Hopefully, there are going to be some kids cheering from behind their screens somewhere in Bucks County about their schools getting these bonuses.”
Overall, Christie has high hopes for iSTEAMM’s first year going virtual.
“I love the idea that we can open it up to more students. I personally would love to see thousands of students participating in this because it’s going to be really fun and fast-paced,” she said. “And I think right now, a lot of young people are probably looking for something to do during the day.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org