NIMBioS Helps Ignite Kids’ Interest in STEM at National Festival

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What does math have to do with mushrooms? Hundreds of kids and their families found out by visiting the interactive NIMBioS and University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s “Fungus Among Us” booth at last month’s USA Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. Game playing, mushrooms studying, and computer modeling were on the agenda in addition to talking to scientists, students and educators. The main goal was to get people thinking about the importance of math and science in investigating how ecosystems function, all the while showing that science and math are fun. Over 300,000 people of all ages attended the public STEM outreach festival, which featured interactive booths, performances, book signings and more.

The NIMBioS-UT booth was designed and developed through collaboration between NIMBioS and the Ecology & Evolutionary Biology (EEB) department at UT. Leading up to the event, EEB Ecosystem Ecology Lab Manager Courtney Patterson, NIMBioS Education & Outreach Coordinator Kelly Sturner, and EEB graduating seniors Nora Dunkirk and Brandy Pieper worked as a team to design and develop the booth and its message. The team at the festival even included an old friend of NIMBioS as well: former NIMBioS postdoc Sharon Bewick, now a postdoc at the University of Maryland, helped staff the booth.

“The event was a great experience for the students — and all of us — to think about the importance of science outreach and how to effectively communicate our message to a public audience,” said Sturner.

The team also shared its work with Tennessee legislators. The team visited the Capitol Hill office of Senator Bob Corker and spoke with legislative aide Mark White about science education and outreach. Daniel Hale, Legislative Correspondent for Agricultural, Energy & Environmental Policy for Senator Lamar Alexander, visited the festival booth to learn more about NIMBioS and the University of Tennessee’s outreach effort.

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