Set against stunning Maui ocean views and cool sea breezes, the third annual Hawai'i Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Conference drew more than 200 students from 16 intermediate and high schools across the state on March 30 and 31. Women in Technology (WIT), a Maui Economic Development Board (MEDB) program, sponsored the meeting at the Wailea Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in partnership with the County of Maui and the Office of the State Director for Career and Technical Education.
The STEM Conference is one of MEDB's most innovative events. This year, it again provided groundbreaking education for the participants.
"It is wonderful to see the culmination of so many years of investment and partnerships with educational, industry and community leaders," said Leslie R. Wilkins, vice president of MEDB and director of the WIT program. "The proof is the caliber of the student projects, with the nationwide software and technology companies that are here to share their expertise and state-of-the-art tools with our students," she said.
Maui High School freshmen Zeida Roberts (left), Nico Pedro (right) and Jeannie Hifo (seated) make a commercial about healthy eating for the STEM Conference media competition.
Photo: Cindy Schumacher
The two-day event brought local students, teachers, parents, community and business members together with some of the most innovative companies in the world, including Google, National Geographic and Apple.
"For many students, this was their first experience to attend a regional technology conference complete with breakout sessions, software competitions, an onsite 3C's Digital Media competition, a formal awards banquet and exhibit presentations," said WIT Project Manager Isla Young.
A primary goal of this STEM event is to challenge and encourage participation from students while allowing them the opportunity to learn about current in-demand technologies and the latest software tools.
"This is an amazing opportunity to discover what you are passionate about and what amazing STEM career paths are available to you," she told the students. "Our job is to be the conveyors--the spark that ignites the passion--the liaison between education and STEM careers," Young said.
"To this end, we hold software competitions at the conference, allowing teams to display their creative technical skills in computer-aided design, Web design, game design, poster design, music design and video," she said.
The event began with a wide range of breakout sessions and student competitions.
"Conference breakout sessions exposed participants to an exciting array of STEM topics in a fun, interactive way," said Young.
In addition, workshops included 3D engineering, filmmaking, Photoshop, agriculture, WordPress, GPS navigation, geo-spatial information systems, space monitoring and more. Student competitions were held in seven of these categories. Teams were also charged with creating a promotional package with video commercials for a local company.
On Saturday, the conference paid tribute to significant STEM contributions made year-round by local STEM educators. Professional development workshops for teachers included sessions with Google, National Geographic and 3D Innovation Academy.
"The 2012 Hawai'i STEM Conference was one of the best conferences I have ever attended," said Peg Temple, curriculum coordinator and teacher at Lokelani Intermediate School in Kihei.
"The classes I attended gave me many ideas and activities to share at my school," Temple said. "Each session offered hands-on activities, gave free Websites for future use and had time for collaboration between teachers."
"We had students who actually made an iBook, learned how to design a Web game, and most of all, learned how to think outside of the box and open up their creativity," she added.
Temple's students shared her conference excitement.
"It is an honor to be here," said seventh-grader Milena Lamonica, who loves Google's Sketchup software that allowed her to explore the graphics and technology needed to make 3D objects.
A number of students agreed that the best part of the conference was meeting and working with new people.
"The time allowed us to get to know other students, talk about our projects and make new connections," they said.
The participants also got to know some professionals in specific fields who gave valuable advice for reaching career goals.
"What an awesome day at the STEM Conference!" said Emily Schell of National Geographic. "Hawai'i educators and students have it going on. I really enjoyed Stemworks curriculum conversation with teachers and the wholehearted interest displayed by the students."
Guest speaker Leslie Wilcox, president and CEO of Public Broadcasting System in Hawai'i, has a favorite quote: "Nothing good ever gets accomplished without enthusiasm." "I find it amazing how these students are so interested in pursuing their passions with such great delight," she said.
"This is an extraordinary conference," said Bruce Anderson, superintendent for Central Maui Schools. "I think that MEDB does an incredible job for our islands. They are giving our students the opportunity to see what's out there and to keep up."
The Hawai'i STEM Conference is growing in prestige and impact with each succeeding year, as evidenced by the strong statewide attendance and top-tier quality of event partners and presenters.
"It's making a real difference in the way the students use their critical thinking skills and the way they're putting their advanced technical skills to work for the community," Anderson said.