STEM can take you to the forest...and beyond

WASHINGTON, DC — The 2018 USA Science and Engineering Festival Expo was a blast! Held in Washington, DC, April 6–8, the nation’s largest STEM festival attracted thousands of children from near and far to exhibit halls packed with hands-on activities and interactive gizmos.

Approximately 20,000 visitors rushed Exhibit Hall D, where scientists from the Forest Service, the Agriculture Research Service, and other USDA agencies engaged children and their parents in a weekend of nonstop science celebration.

Doug Gantt, Isaiah Hirschfield and firefighter Devante Lockamy represented Forest Service Fire and Aviation Management, drawing crowds to their booth with gigantic pine cones and an interactive wildfire mapping display.

The Forest Service had two other booths as well — representing Conservation and Education and Research and Development, respectively. Staffing the booths were deputy director Heidi McAllister, director Tracy Hancock and doctors Tamberly Conway and Sharon Parker, as well as Shannon Kelleher, Michelle Andrews, Morgann Thomas, Kailie Marcinkowski, Ashley Newson, Juan Lazo, Mary Biggs, Mike Hill, Betsy Kanalley, Farjana Islam, Sue Cummings and Ted Abraha.

Agency research staff participated in a “Meet the Scientist and Engineer” event on Sunday. Tracy Hancock, science writer Shannon Kelleher and doctors Quintaniay Holifield, Anne Timm, Lauren Pile, Sharon Parker and Anne Marsh conducted in-person interviews with students and their families in the career pavilion, answering questions about their respective educational paths and careers.

The team thoroughly enjoyed educating children with invasive insect and cave exploration educational materials and handing out Woodsy Owl and Smokey Bear bookmarks. Agency volunteers also led a leaf rubbing activity and hosted a fun forest photo backdrop, where kids dressed in scientist garb such as a lab coat and goggles.

Photo: Forest Service employees hold a sign saying "We're growing your future" at the 2018 STEM expo.
Forest Service employees staffed booths at the 2018 STEM Expo in Washington, D.C. Forest Service photo by Deborah Pacheco.

Scientist cards ruled the day, especially on Sunday. Children were enamored when Dr. Parker surprised them in person with her very own, autographed card. Woodsy and Smokey made a special appearance, and over 400 people watched and participated in Woodsy’s stage show.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture was well-represented at the event. Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, acting REE Deputy Under Secretary and USDA chief scientist/ARS administrator, addressed 100 girls during a panel discussion Saturday. Jeff Weld, senior advisor for STEM education at the White House, shared that he had visited all the federal exhibits, and his top picks were USDA and NASA. Other USDA exhibit highlights included ARS entomologist Dr. Ron Ochoa, who wowed children with creepy, crawly insects.