Rep. Gerry Connolly speaks during the symposium.
JD Kathuria has seen plenty of local opportunities for adults in science and technology fields, but few catered to children. As CEO of WashingtonExec, Kathuria wanted to create an event that would inspire children to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.
Four years and several thousand students later, Kathuria’s organization has established the region’s largest STEM event for children.
WashingtonExec, a publication directed at D.C. area executives and entrepreneurs, organized the fourth annual STEM symposium March 25 at the Nysmith School for the Gifted in Herndon, Virginia. It is already is the largest K-12 STEM event in Northern Virginia, and more than 3,000 people attended this year.
“It’s a fun and interesting event,” Kathuria said. “It’s a one of a kind event and there’s nothing else like it.”
This year’s installment featured more than a dozen speakers from government and STEM industries, including Children’s Science Center Executive Director Adalene Spivey and Aaditya Singh, a sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology who will attend the Massachusetts Institute for Technology next year.
It also featured science projects from Loudoun and Fairfax County students, as well as hands-on interactions with drones, physics experiments, heart models and three dimensional printers.
Though there have been STEM programs for decades, they were oriented toward professionals already in those fields. That had hindered chances for new groups of people to learn about these opportunities and explains why demographics in these fields haven’t changed much in the past few decades, said Vaeros Vice President Edward Swallow, whose group is part of the Aerospace Corporation. Six percent of STEM workers were minorities in 1990, Swallow said, and now its only seven percent. Female participation has gone down from 22 percent to 21 percent during that same time period.
“We’re not reaching the third, fourth and fifth grade. That’s when we lose women, that’s when we lose people of color,” said Swallow. “By having an event like this, where we go from kindergarten to 12th grade, we can maintain excitement throughout the entire education system. It’s making the inspiration early, then building the foundation that allows them the preparation to go to college and successfully compete in the STEM world.”
To get on a STEM track in high school, students have to complete Algebra I by eighth grade. To do that, they have plan the necessary pre-requisites by the time they enter middle school. That’s why students need to have a passion for STEM as early as elementary school, Swallow said.
Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th) and Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11th) also spoke at the event. Comstock, the chair of the House’s Subcommittee on Research and Technology, recently helped pass the INSPIRE Women Act and has been an advocate for further education in STEM fields. Connolly has likewise advocated for greater government education funding, and addressed America’s potential for further innovations.
“When we put our minds to it, we can do incredible things,” Connolly said. “We can reach goals no other humans have ever reached.”