Super STEM: Forum Returns to Showcase College Students and Career Opportunities – Natural Self Esteem

Gauges, dials and sensors blinked and pulsed under the watchful eyes of young scientists from the region on Thursday evening.

Small groups of students and parents gathered around the massive Process Training Unit, a two-story building constructed at Endress+Hauser’s Greenwood facility. Most days, the device allows workers to become familiar with various measurements, such as pressure and flow, that are critical to their manufacturing.

But during Endress+Hauser’s annual Community Career+Education Forum, students had the opportunity to see the real-world applications of the science they are interested in.

“I’m not really sure what career path I want to take when I’m older, so I want to see what different options there are,” said Tyler Johnson, an eighth-grader at Center Grove Middle School Central with an interest in math.

The forum returned Thursday night as more than 500 middle school students and their parents poured into Endress+Hauser’s Greenwood facility to celebrate science, technology, engineering and math.

They spoke to local manufacturers about career opportunities, learned about study programs at local colleges and participated in hands-on demonstrations of robotics, 3D printing and state-of-the-art diesel engines, among other things.

Pandemic-related precautions forced the annual event to be virtual-only in 2020, prompting organizers to postpone last fall’s event. The event is meaningful to Endress+Hauser employees and they hope the return to a face-to-face forum will be a special evening for all involved.

“It combines all the elements of future careers,” says Nicole Otte, Head of Personnel Development and Human Resources at Endress+Hauser. “All of us together can create awareness for STEM, craft and manufacturing. We hope to change attitudes about these things.”

The Community Career+Education Forum was developed to showcase the wide range of potential careers, education and leisure around STEM. The event was created in 2014 to help schools, students and their families learn what skills employers are looking for in their employees and to learn about the different types of careers in advanced manufacturing.

Endress+Hauser partnered with Central Nine Career Center and Aspire Johnson County to create the career forum, which has become an important way to promote interest in science and technology in the county. Organizers also added grants for educators in the area to encourage innovative STEM opportunities in the county’s classrooms.

“When we initiated it, we knew it was going to be a long play. It’s not something that will immediately pay off for this investment, but we’re seeing a return,” Otte said. “We have trainees who were at the very first CCE+F and are now employees. Students we meet at career fairs have been on the forums. It created that awareness.”

That made the past two years difficult. The organizers switched to a virtual forum in 2020, which at least allowed students and parents to connect with various representatives from the STEM world. Still, it didn’t feel the same, she said.

They had hoped to return to a full in-person event in the fall of 2021, but during the planning process, COVID-19 cases began to rise again.

“At the time it didn’t seem like we were supposed to do that, but we still wanted to give our scholarships away and still wanted our robotics test that we had,” Otte said. “We were able to do these pieces but could have a lot of people. So we postponed it.”

Even if the forum is postponed just before spring break, Endress+Hauser still has between 500 and 600 students enrolled, she said.

“We are pleased that several community partners, community organizations and schools are getting involved again,” said Otte. “We are happy to have a live event again.”

Energy bubbled through the event as excited students in grades six through nine led their parents from activity to activity. Participants were able to test their knowledge in a live-action quiz entitled “Are you smarter than an engineer?”.

A 3-D pressurized cabin offered real-time demonstrations of the technology. The students could sit down at a “welding simulator” and practice the basics of welding a seam with a special computer program.

Jack Thompson and Joe Rhynearson, both eighth graders at Greenwood Community Middle School, lined up to try it.

“There’s a lot of cool stuff to learn here, and it can give you new ideas for future things you might want to do,” Rhynearson said.

“When I’m older I want to pursue a job as an engineer or a programmer, and I’ve been told that this is a good place to learn more about those things,” Thompson added.

Endress+Hauser organizers also invited a variety of community partners to set up booths to educate attendees about educational programs and employment opportunities in the local industry. Companies like NSK and Nachi gave out small tokens while talking to students about the role STEM plays in their day-to-day work.

Milwaukee Tool, which opened its service center in Greenwood in 2021, showed students how to use some of the tools they made.

The Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Franklin College and Ivy Tech Community College were among the schools in attendance that provided information on STEM-related majors and offerings. The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office provided insight into the role of science and technology in law enforcement.

Robotics teams from Center Grove, Greenwood and Southport schools demonstrated their latest creations and how they work.

For Kate Lidy and Natalie Shaver, both students at Center Grove Middle School Central and part of the Center Grove Robotics program, the forum was an opportunity to talk to other students about one of their passions.

“I remember the only reason I got into robotics was because I had come to a robotics meeting and they were telling me these things. Now I can do that to other kids,” Lidy said.

Although the different schools competed against each other throughout the year, they were all bound by a shared love of robotics and interest in STEM, Shaver said.

“It’s really interesting and fun to see all the people working together even though they’re competing against each other,” she said. “It’s really fun to see how the technology has evolved so far.”

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