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Little Rock AFB hosts Arkansas’ largest STEM Fest

A  child is in a blue and white bag.

A student attending the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Festival learns about water survival training with STEM Festival volunteers at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., Oct. 26, 2018. This event gives students a unique opportunity to immerse themselves in various STEM-related activities before the Thunder Over the Rock Air and Space Show opened to the public. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kristine M. Gruwell)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. (AFNS) -- Little Rock Air Force Base hosted Arkansas’ largest Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics festival in conjunction with the Thunder Over the Rock Air and Space Show, with a field trip day Oct. 26 that drew more than 20,000 attendees, over 13,000 of whom were students.

The students, teachers and chaperones in attendance experienced exhibits focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics with the goal of building interest in STEM-oriented careers.

“We all felt a lot of responsibility to live up to the expectations of 13,000 students and their teachers, but seeing the amazed looks on their faces drove home how important this experience was for our young people,” said Maj. Kyle Sanders, STEM Fest director. “It was our chance to bring their textbooks to life and connect with science professionals from the entire region.”

The exhibits included a robotics competition, drone races, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration high-altitude weather balloon launch, and NASA’s Journey to Tomorrow, a traveling exhibit that immerses visitors in a fun-filled interactive experience.

The festival offered a chance for Arkansas institutions and professionals to interact with a variety of students from across the state.

“This amount of student engagement you cannot put a price on; it’s unprecedented in Arkansas,” said Chris Lynch, Arkansas Department of Career Education STEM coordinator.

STEM careers are projected to be the fastest growing sector in the next few decades. In partnering with the state of Arkansas, Little Rock AFB hoped to expose attendees to STEM careers by connecting them with professionals in a variety of fields.

“Both our nation and our local economy depend on technology to thrive,” Sanders said. “We hope that this event helped inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.”

The STEM Fest also ran throughout the Thunder Over the Rock Air and Space Show Oct. 27-28, and was open to the public. The festival exhibits complemented the air and space show by highlighting the vital role STEM plays in aviation technology and the Air Force.

"STEM is important because it's what makes the world go ‘round,” said Capt. Ian Bergstrom, STEM Fest augmentee. “It's important to get that into a child's perspective at a young age."