HAMMOND — More than 1,200 students from throughout a six-parish region learned about careers in science, technology, engineering and math at the Northshore STEM Coalition's STEM Festival.

The daylong event was Aug. 24 at the Pennington Activity Center on the Southeastern Louisiana University campus.

The students, enrolled in the first through 12th grades, visited about 40 stations manned by experts in the various fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. At many of the stations the budding scientists could engage in hands-on experiences that broadened their knowledge and allowed them to better understand reasons for pursuing careers in STEM areas.

The Northshore STEM Coalition includes staff members from SLU, the Northshore Technical and Community College, and representatives from the school systems in Washington, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, St. Helena, and Livingston parishes as well as Bogalusa. Wendy Canarro, assistant director of the Math and Science Upward Bound Program and Troy Williams, instructor of physics, both at SLU, served as co-chairmen of the STEM Festival. The festival heralds a year of activities that will feature STEM Café programs in every parish every month through May.

Canarro and Williams said the festival introduces the sciences to students who might otherwise not be considering a future career in one of the STEM areas.

“For some young students, today’s festival might be a light bulb moment when they suddenly realize that perhaps they would enjoy a career with a foundation in the sciences and engineering,” Williams said. “The students who have enrolled in the festival are enjoying the experience and we feel that no matter what they decide relative to a future career, they are gaining what we call STEM literacy by being here today. Their scope of knowledge and appreciation for the sciences will only be enhanced by what they learn here today.”

Preparing today’s students for future productive and profitable careers is one of the aims of the STEM Coalition, Canarro said. “Many students don’t yet know what their future prospects are and an exposure to the many, many exciting fields in the sciences can help them make decisions about the career paths that they may want to eventually follow,” Canarro said.

Fair participants could engage in flying robots, perform simple chemical experiments, learn all about hospital care, explore space, learn about sustainability of the planet and take part in other activities.

“This was a day to give some enthusiastic youngsters a chance to enjoy inspiring, hand-on experiences. At the same time, it offered an opportunity for the parents to learn about the absolute importance of STEM fields in today’s societies. This was our way of touching tomorrow’s potential scientists and we sought to make the experience fun, informative and challenging. I think that those who chose to come are enjoying the day,” Williams said.

STEM Cafes will be held in Hammond on Sept. 28 at the Greenville Park Leadership Academy, in Kentwood at O.W. Dillon Leadership Academy on Nov. 16, at the Literacy & Technology Center in Walker on Jan. 25, and in Hammond at the AT&T Store on May 9.