Student scientists wow judges at MCFTA’s inaugural STEM Festival

When you think of a scientist, what do they look like?

The Midland Center for the Arts hosted its inaugural STEM Festival last Saturday, May 22. Students from kindergarten through eighth grade were invited to submit an application and present a science experiment, engineering solution, or technological tool to judges and community members. The Chippewa Nature Center and Girl Scouts partnered with the festival to offer hands-on activities.

“The event was celebrating our young scientists, engineers, mathematicians,” says Jennifer Kanyo, Midland Center’s director of education. “... It was so impressive, even the really little ones. I was amazed at what they were able to do.”

Phoebe Lai, a third grader, won second place for her escalating slide for disabilities design.Judges came from different backgrounds in STEM. Students were broken into three age groups: kindergarten through second grade; third through fifth; and sixth through eighth. An awards ceremony was held on May 23 at Dow Diamond, and the projects were impressive.

“We had someone who had designed a new electric peeler; we had someone who was experimenting with bicycle brakes; we had someone who was looking at endothermic and exothermic reactions — different ways to grow plants,” says Kanyo. “It was just amazing, the range we had and the creativity of all the students.”

Kanyo’s favorite part? Seeing how excited the students were, how proud they were of their projects, and how eloquently they presented. The judges were impressed, too.

Ayesha Middha, eighth grade, won first place for her Newton's Cradle research.“After the judges came back and turned in their scorecards to me, almost every single judge said, ‘I learned so much today.’ Seeing these individuals who work in STEM fields, who are chemists or engineers, and they come back and say they learned something from these kindergarten through eighth-graders — it gave me goosebumps,” says Kanyo.

Kanyo has plans to grow and expand the festival for next year. By request from the eighth graders, the festival will expand to include high school students. She hopes to bring in more participants and community members and partner with community organizations again. Kanyo is considering adding mentorship opportunities.

Ryan Kozel, fifth grade, won first place for his project on growing plants from seed.“[Mentorship] is something that I’ve definitely been thinking about, whether it’s through this STEM Festival or it’s something that we do throughout the year. ... I would be really interested in doing a more formalized mentorship or continued touchpoints with specific individuals in our community and our youth that see themselves in these positions one day.”

Kanyo came up with the STEM Festival to show off how creative, skilled, and passionate our youths are. She also believes it’s important to involve kids in STEM — the earlier kids are introduced, the more likely they are to pursue STEM fields. 

“It’s really exciting to provide kids with the opportunity to see all of the different faces of scientists and engineers, and maybe there’s somebody that they meet that looks a lot like them,” says Kanyo. “It really helps them visualize being in those roles in the future.”

Read more articles by Crystal Gwizdala.

Crystal Gwizdala grew up in the Tri-Cities and enjoys broadcasting all the positive change happening in Midland. As Assistant Editor for Catalyst Midland, her favorite topics are environment, wellness, mental health, and the arts. As a human, Crystal is a serial hobbyist: hiking, drawing, yoga, and playing music. Her work can be seen in The Detroit Free Press, Midland Daily News, and The Delta Collegiate. To see what Crystal’s up to, you can follow her on Twitter @CrystalGwizdala.