Several hundred students, from elementary to high school, participated in the Tangi STEM Coalition’s popular STEM Café program which was brought to Livingston Parish for the first time on Saturday.

The STEM Café programs are designed to put the spotlight on students becoming more familiar with the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Special programs and displays were offered on three levels — the elementary discovery section, the middle school career exploration section, and the high school college and career conversations section.

At the event’s opening gathering, held at the Livingston Literacy & Technology Center, Wendy Canarro of the Southeastern Louisiana University faculty and Tangi Stem Coalition’s co-chairwoman, told the students and parents that the STEM Café is a “fun event for the whole family.” She said the program was designed to “excite and inspire youth in STEM, to help parents support their child’s development and to build relationships recognizing and celebrating STEM in communities.”

“We care because exploring STEM is important," Canarro said. "I want to remind the parents with us today that the high-paying jobs are related to STEM. Students need to start early to familiarize themselves with STEM subjects. Play around with technology … join groups such as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts and 4-H that are including STEM in their programs. Prepare yourselves for STEM careers. If you take the time to explore STEM starting when you are very young, by the time you get to college you will be ready for a career in one of the STEM fields.”

Following the opening address, the students and their parents visited the many stations and classrooms where STEM professionals were available for instruction and advice, and exhibits were set up for exploration. The elementary discovery section provided loosely structured activities that promoted discovery and enjoyment of STEM activities. The middle school section provided more structured hands-on activities lasting about 20 to 30 minutes.

The high school section provided interactions with STEM professionals in small groups of three to four students per professional. The visiting high schoolers met with professionals in a number of different career fields.

Parents were provided with tips and advice on assisting children and youth with their interests and development. Parents were encouraged to ask questions of professionals in the field. Six professionals in the various STEM fields were available for interaction with the parents.

Canarro said the STEM Cafes have been produced by the Tangi STEM Coalition for several years. The movement has grown over the years and has expanded from events in Tangipahoa Parish to the network that now includes several parishes, she said.

“Last year, we had four events and this year we will have nine. We decided to bring a STEM Café to Livingston Parish this year, and it is proving to be a success. We begin the year with the Back To School Session on the SLU campus and after that we have one STEM Café a month. We started with Bogalusa High School in September and then held sessions in Ponchatoula, St. Helena, Independence and today, Livingston. We will have future STEM Cafes at Amite, Pine, SLU and Kentwood,” Canarro said.

David Peak, of Denham Springs, who with his three children were engaged in a demonstration presented by graduate students in biology from Southeastern Louisiana University, said of the day’s program, “This is a really good event. The kids are leaning about some things they might not otherwise have a chance to learn. The hands-on experience is really worthwhile.”

His daughter, Emmarie, was playing with a small, live snake handed to her by graduate assistant Brooke Perrera. At that table, visitors could also play with a huge, live Madagascan cockroach, examine the skull of a once 15-foot alligator and learn other things related to biology.

A popular stop on the booth trail was the exhibit shown by the Hammond High School Storm Chasers Robotics Team. Robots built by the students that have won in competition were on display. The four students demonstrating the robots all said that they planned to major in a STEM field when they enter college.

Experts in such fields as aviation, environmental sciences, industrial and engineering technology, sustainability, mechanical and electrical technology, design, computer science, chemistry, geographic information sciences, physics, medicine and other fields were on hand to interact with the students. The Livingston Parish School System STEM Express Bus sponsored by Assess the Need was parked in front of the Literacy Center and offered a number of hands-on activities for the students.