Incoming 9th Graders Get Hands-On at STEAM Fair

A fair designed to empower women and non-binary people in STEAM got a new mission this year.

Krisna Kumar, Managing Editor (print)

From Aquaponics to Robotics, the 2022 STEAM Fair on April 27th showcased many clubs and classes for the incoming 9th grade.  For half a day in May, 8th graders toured a Library and Makerspace packed with examples of Upper School learning experiences.

The fair kicked off with alumni speaker Jax Shay from the class of 2015, who now works at Verve Therapeutics in a gene-editing therapy lab. Jax discussed their multiple passions, from performing arts to sciences. 

After the speaker, 8th grade students spent time walking around the Library and Makerspace, where different STEAM related booths were set up. Each booth was run by a couple of Upper School students and ranged in topic from stagecraft to computer science.

The annual STEAM fair was created with the focus of introducing 8th grade students to the many Upper School opportunities in the science and math realm.

“In 2019, we did this for the first time,” Jennifer Robinson, Director of Technology, remembers. “In part, it was due to some attrition, we were losing a lot of students. They were leaving and going to other schools. Particularly there were a lot of female students that were coming up from the eighth grade [who left].” 

Last year’s STEAM fair occurred in a hybrid and zoom like experience.

“I remember last year we had to do icebreakers with our group and we were with them for a while in the morning before they started. And we had to be with them in rooms watching speakers. We weren’t all together, we were in separate rooms, because of COVID,” says sophomore Erin Nicolson. Erin was involved in the STEAM fair last year and this year. 

2022 marked the return of the in-person STEAM fair. However, there were also some other differences.

The 2020 and 2021 STEAM fairs included only female and non-binary identifying students, so as to empower this minority group in STEAM. Ultimately, it was decided that the 2022 fair would include students of all genders. 

Mrs. Robinson explains this shift.

“This year, because we really want to continue to encourage all gender identities and more students of color, it felt right to expand it to all the 8th grade instead of just emphasizing female or female and non-binary students,” she says. 

Yet, some felt that this change affected the purpose of the fair.

 “I think that the change in having it be all 8th graders kind of takes away the purpose of highlighting women and non-binary people in STEAM,” says Erin. “If you wanted to be showcasing classes to the 8th graders coming to high school, that could be a separate thing to empowerment. But the whole aspect of empowerment was kind of taken away.”

Going forward, the STEAM fair will continue to grow and change. 

“One of the things I would change is to put it earlier in the year,” says Robinson. “I think it needs to happen in like January, maybe before 8th graders do their course selection, because I think they had already filled out their course selection form and then found out about opportunities.”

Along with modifying the time of the fair, the role of student leaders might adapt as well. In 2020 and 2021, Upper School students had a much more active role in planning the fair. This year, much of the planning occurred with teachers, while students handled the facilitating..

But overall, the STEAM fair’s purpose was fulfilled: for 8th graders to have fun and get excited about what awaits them in Upper School.  

“It was fun to see how enthusiastic they were,” says Erin. “With the cipher too, the computational linguistics challenge, my group that I was with, they were very excited and very enthusiastic, very involved and determined in trying to figure out the answer.”