Exploring the Possibilities: Students Stampede Ford Field
"It really got the kids pumped about science and engineering!"
Thousands of middle- and high-school students converged on Detroit's Ford Field November 2 for a glimpse of their futures.
They were joined by US Senator Carl Levin, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, and Bill Nye, the Science Guy, who addressed the crowds at Michigan Tech's YES! Expo.
"They all challenged the students to work hard and envision how important science and technology are to the future of Michigan and the United States," said Pete Cattelino, Michigan Tech's director of the YES! Expo and educational programs.
This is the third year that the University has sponsored the Youth Engineering and Science Expo, which was designed to interest young people in pursuing education and careers in technology-related fields.
Nearly 100 companies, universities, and organizations were on hand to showcase career paths in technology and sciences. Exhibit topics ranged from space exploration to earth sciences and from biological studies to robotics.
Statistics show that in recent years the number of college-bound students interested in pursuing science and engineering degrees in the US has dropped dramatically. As a result, experts fear that America could lose its technological edge in the global marketplace.
Bill Nye, the Science Guy
If raw numbers of students count, the YES! Expo is already solving the problem. "It was so busy-it took half an hour to walk a quarter of the way around the floor," said Michigan Tech sophomore Amanda VanSlooten, who attended the event.
VanSlooten had a rare insight into what those students were experiencing. "I came from a very small school, and the Expo was an awesome experience for me," she said. The company exhibits, particularly the flashy new vehicles, were big attention grabbers. "It really got the kids pumped about science and engineering!"
"And I got to meet Bill Nye, the Science Guy," she gushed. "I was so excited! When I was younger, I watched him all the time. He came over to our booth and took pictures of us. It was every little kid's dream."
She also got the chance to help students and their parents fulfill another kind of dream. "Many of the students I met had never heard about our programs, and I also told them about our scholarships," said VanSlooten. "Parents think college is expensive, but after they learned more about financial aid, they thought they could afford it."
"I think you have a great thing going here, and I hope that you keep it growing," said Susan Underhill of Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America. "These kids represent our future technology leadership. They need venues like this to encourage them to stretch beyond easy goals and achieve something really worthwhile, both for themselves and their country."
Kelly McGill, with Pulte Homes of Bloomfield Hills, watched as students built a playhouse as part of her company's exhibit.
"The kids were great," she said. "We had so many say they had so much fun and that they learned a lot, and you could tell they meant it by the laughter and the smiles on their faces."
Among the schools participating was Grand Valley State University, which helped launch the first YES! Expo in 2004 with a high-stakes football game that pitted Michigan Tech against GVSU at Michigan Stadium, in Ann Arbor.
"It's been fun, ever since it got started at the Bash at the Big House," said Jeff Ray, director of Grand Valley's School of Engineering. "The event is wonderful. It's great to be able to make contact with that many students who are going to be our future, whether it's in engineering, science, technology, or math."
The YES! Expo also gave the supporters a chance to make a difference. "We handed a girl this little motorized valve train, and her eyes were like pancakes," Ray recalled. "She thought that was so cool. I felt that I could pack up and go home right then, that we'd influenced somebody's life.
"There's a payback that we never thought of when we started this. These kids are the future. They are the ones who will keep America strong and help build a better world."