STEM career fair draws interest at Eagan High School

We've all heard of career fairs, where you talk to people in different job fields and careers, and find out more about what you find interesting. How about a STEM fair, where all of the booths are related to science, technology, engineering or ma...

We've all heard of career fairs, where you talk to people in different job fields and careers, and find out more about what you find interesting. How about a STEM fair, where all of the booths are related to science, technology, engineering or math? That's impossible, right? Then again, maybe it isn't such a crazy idea.

More than 170 professionals crammed into the Eagan High School and Dakota Hills Middle School cafeterias on Feb. 25 for the STEM Career Fair. The amount of combined knowledge and experience found in one building was palpable. Flashy signs, televisions and demonstrations caught the eyes of students roaming from one stand to the next, learning about various careers.

The students who attended from District 196 could visit any of the booths, divided into six sections: engineering, software/information technology, science, medical and healthcare, math, and STEM. At these booths, the students talked to professionals in a variety of fields pertaining to STEM values.

In 2013, the Eagan High School robotics team 2220 Blue Twilight ran the first STEM Career Fair at Eagan High School. Faculty adviser Jim Lynch conceived the notion the previous year in an effort to increase STEM career awareness for Team 2220's school and community.

The first year, there were only 95 presenters and about 570 students. This year, the participation in the STEM fair has exploded with 170 presenters. The number of students who attended didn't change, but the percentage of students from other schools did increase greatly.


This is one of the goals of the STEM Career Fair. This year's fair was converted from a sole "Eagan High School" activity to a "District 196" event. The goal behind this change was to make the career fair an enticing event for all the elementary, middle and high school students in the district, not just students from a single school.

Penny Anderson, coordinator for the STEM career fair, has been the impetus behind the project. Each year, she contacts professionals to volunteer their time to inspire students to explore STEM careers and classes.

Anderson has always been enthusiastic about the wide-ranging impact that the STEM career fair has on both younger and older students. In a letter she wrote to Jane Berenz, superintendent of District 196, she stated that "For the younger students, it gives them the opportunity to explore early to ensure that they are seeking out the courses and experiences that will lead them toward their career. Even for those who have already chosen a field, this gives them the opportunity to begin networking and learning more about the field."

The STEM fair does, in fact, reach these young and old students. Nineteen percent of the students at the event this year were in grades K-10, a normally absent demographic at any career fair.

Not only does the STEM fair allow young and old students to find new career ideas and to network, but it also teaches them how to interact with professionals and even possible employers. The point of the STEM fair is to learn about STEM careers and how to be successful in those environments. The reasonable communication each student must have with each of the career presenters is an experience similar to that of a work environment. The student must communicate their thoughts clearly and comprehend the words of the professional.

Dave Hendricksen, software architecture exhibitor for Thomson Reuters and mentor for FRC team 2220 Blue Twilight, emphasized this point.

"When you actually get to the point of having job interviews, being able to communicate your thoughts effectively, and even when you want to get promoted in a company, communication skills turn out to be really, really important."

A facilitated environment like this begins to prepare students for an adult-dominated work world in which they must be able to communicate effectively. To create things in a technical profession, expression of what needs to be done is crucial. The STEM Fair's little-known benefit of aiding student-to-adult communication begins to prepare the students attending for this requirement.


The fair was a success both in 2013 and 2014. The appeal of more than 100 STEM presenters brought students of all ages from all over the district, as well as some from outside the district.

"The parking lots were full, Diffley Road (the road outside the school) had a traffic issue -- lots of attendees -- and as I walked around and talked with presenters and those in attendance I heard nothing but positive support," said Dr. Polly Reikowski, principal of Eagan High School.

In the years to come, Team 2220, in coordination with the district office, hopes to increase the number of students attending the STEM Career Fair. Lynch proposed moving the fair to a different school in the district every year, to avoid having students at Eagan High School assume because they have attended one year, the fair will be identical the next. Instead, a new location will instigate more interest and attendance at every school in the district.

Team 2220 and the school district hope to expand and improve this event. Team 2220 hopes the future of the STEM Fair will continue to create interest in STEM fields in compliance with the hopes of FIRST ideals, and the team itself.

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