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Career events spark interest in STEM-related fields for Vermont students

Written by
VSAC Staff

October 25, 2023


Middle school students engaged with hands-on exhibits at STEM fairs in Vermont

Middle school students engaged with hands-on exhibits at STEM fairs in Castleton and the Northeast Kingdom.

At two bustling events earlier this month at both ends of Vermont, hundreds of 7th and 8th graders came together for hands-on career exploration. Kingdom Career Connect and the  Northeast Kingdom (NEK) STEM Fair at VTSU Lyndon, and the Rutland Area STEM Fair at VTSU Castleton, may even have lit the first sparks for Vermont’s next generation of innovators. 

“Even though it was loud and there were hundreds of people in the room, I could see light bulbs going off with a lot of the students. They would make eye contact, and I could see that they were getting it. There were a lot of moments of connection,” says Nancy Benerofe, one of several dozen exhibitors and workshop presenters.

Dipping into career interests, then diving deep

young boy on Bike Generator during Vermont STEM FairKingdom Career Connect (KCC) has been an annual VSAC event since the early 1990s. Combining with the NEK STEM Fair, and the event’s expansion to the Rutland area, are more recent developments. There's been a growing interest in scientific and technical fields in Vermont, and employers’ want to cultivate local talent, hopefully keeping them in-state for at least part of their careers. Over 660 Vermont middle schoolers showed up at both fairs, ready to learn about STEM-related fields. Four hundred and sixty-plus students from 15 middle schools in the northeast corner of Vermont attended KCC. And over 200 students from 4 schools in the Rutland region participated in the Castleton event.

According to Anna Telensky, who organizes the events for VSAC, “Middle school is such a good time for kids to start thinking about these things. They’re probably not going to make a final decision about their future right now, but it’s a great time for exposure – and the more the better,” she says.

At the NEK event, Careers CLiC kicked off the day with a keynote focused on identifying career interests and building transferable skills. Careers CLiC supports career development for K-12 students through connecting students and schools with local employers.

After the keynote, students dived deeper into their career interests by choosing one of 22 different career workshops. Workshop topics included:

  • adaptive sports technologies
  • bridge building
  • neuroanatomy
  • crime scene investigation
  • emergency medical services
  • filmmaking,
  • and careers in scientific research.

“There was something for every type of student.”

At both STEM Fairs, students were invited to tour the exhibit floor and visit 20+ STEM exhibits offered by VSAC, science centers, colleges and businesses. Exhibits ranged from careers in the medical field, to plumbing and heating demonstrations, to a chance to test-drive a mechanical lift with Casella, a Vermont waste management business. “There was something for every type of student, and it made for a really fun day of hands-on career exploration,” says Telensky.Kids win workshop during Vermont STEM Fair

“The event offered a lot of student agency, allowing them to explore at their leisure and choose the topics they were most interested in,” Telensky notes. “And it’s a good time to plant the seed that STEM is probably going to be a part of their lives in some way, so they should continue to take those math and science classes.”

Benerofe, a second-year exhibitor at both the NEK and Rutland events, seconds that sentiment. “Math is everywhere. It has applications in energy technology, building, chemistry, health sciences, art and architecture,” she notes. Her organization, Math Through Art, brings geometry and math concepts into the classroom through arts-based activities. “We make math visual, spatial, creative and fun. It’s a way to help kids view math as relevant and as a way to understand our world.”

At her booth, students built their own three-dimensional platonic solid shapes out of paper, then decorated them as they liked. “It’s about exposure. It was great to see students walking all around the fair with the shapes tied to their bags and backpacks.”

Nancy Benerofe presenting workshop during STEM Fair in VermontIn Benerofe's workshop, students worked in smaller group of 20 or so, drawing the same shapes in two dimensions from different viewpoints, using compasses and straightedges. “This was more of a teaching opportunity,” Benerofe explains, recalling how impressed she was with the students’ level of focus.

“I gave them opportunities to opt out at various points during the step-by-step process, but they all stayed with the process the entire time,” Benerofe says. Her booth received strong interest, which she attributes to her table full of colorful markers. “Making it fun helps them be more open and available to learn.”

The intended takeaways, says Telensky, are interest cultivation and early-stage planning. “At this age, it’s about letting them explore things that are interesting to them. Kids who might not think of themselves as the ‘traditional STEM kid’ might find something they love. And it’s a great opportunity for local employers to connect with students and say, ‘look at all the cool stuff right here in your community that you might not even know about.’ ”

Students and families can find additional career exploration resources at Vermont career connect.