Blazers attend X-STEM conference in Washington D.C.
On April 24 a group of Blair students led by science teachers Megan Hart, Eric Prange and John Haigh III attended the X-STEM conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C.. The conference was a part of the third annual "USA Science and Engineering Festival," that took place all weekend at the same location, geared towards encouraging students to enter Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
The convention was set up in time blocks with different presenters in each room, allowing students to roam and choose which set of speakers they wanted to hear. Presentations and presenters ranged from astronauts, to chemists, to combat pilots to an author who was dubbed an "arctic explorer" on the program after visiting several remote locations such as Barrow, Alaska . Most presenters stressed the importance of the STEM fields in our digitizing world, crumbling environment and our everlasting quest for knowledge. After an introductory talk from author and scientist Theodore Gray about the elements and molecules that make up our world, Blazers were able to see talks from Glen Whitney about math modeling and later from Dr. Paul Anastas about "green chemistry" and environmental sustainability. Next, students were entertained by fighter pilot and major general Sharon Dunbar, who talked about the real world impact of STEM work. Finally, Jeff Goldstein was able to passionately talk about the scale of the universe and even spurred enough interest to take questions over the next several hours of the conference outside of his room.
Astrophysicist Jeff Goldstein spoke about humans' place in the universe and our natural thirst for knowledge. However, his speech was not all positive, and he mentioned specifically how the government has cut funding for space exploration agencies such as NASA whom he also described as our greatest treasure. "I enjoyed Jeff Goldstein because he was very engaged and you could feel how passionate he was about his topic," says senior Grant Tipton. He also spoke about intense scientific phenomena, such as the Milky Way's eventual collision with our neighbor the Andromeda I galaxy. Air Force Major General Sharon Dunbar spoke about the upcoming and current importance of STEM fields in the military. With the advent of drones, or unmanned aircraft with missile carrying capabilities, military combat is moving towards more technological warfare. There is significantly less importance on physical strength and bravery and more emphasis on mastery of computer technology and physics. Also she spoke about the adversity she faced a s woman at the Air Force Academy and in the Air Force itself. She stressed the importance for girls activism in STEM fields which they currently lag way behind in.
The conference was aimed at inspiring younger students to be passionate about the STEM fields. "At this exact moment, I believe we're falling behind on math education in particular, there's just not enough emphasis on it in schools," said Junior Conor James on this education deficit.This inspiration was the common theme throughout all of the talks, and the speakers accomplished it in different ways, whether it was by explaining problems that these students could be the one to fix or by simply outlining what makes that speaker passionate about their field.
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