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Focus on Agriculture

April 16, 2014

Agriculture’s Role in STEM Education

By Cyndie Sirekis

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education is the focus of the third annual USA Science & Engineering Festival, slated for April 26-27 in Washington, D.C. The event, the country’s only national science festival, will feature more than 700 exhibitors offering a whopping number (3,000) of fun, hands-on activities for learners of all ages.

Fewer than a dozen exhibits will feature agriculture, farming or food production. The American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture, an official partner of the festival, is one.

“The Foundation’s ‘Growing the World’ exhibit will encourage visitors to dive into a world of food, fiber and energy that is truly STEM-based,” explains Julie Tesch, Foundation director.

Visitors to the Foundation’s exhibit will discover where their food comes from, how farmers and ranchers care for the land, and how science, technology, engineering and mathematics come to life in food, fiber and fuel production. They’ll also be able to tour a mobile agriculture lab, experience the technology of state-of-the-art farm machinery, dig into online gaming, and have a conversation with someone who lives STEM learning every day – an American farmer.

“Agriculture is an important component of our nation’s movement toward more science, technology, engineering and math curriculum,” says Tesch. “Working together with strategic partners we strive to promote agricultural education as part of STEM curriculum nationwide.”

The Foundation’s exhibit was designed for creative interaction between Farm Bureau members and staff and the public, regarding agriculture and how food, fiber and fuel moves from the field to consumers. The exhibit will feature hands-on learning activities for students, a “meet the farmer” area, a reading nook featuring The Beeman author Laurie Krebs and My American Farm kiosks. Also sure to draw attention is the Pennsylvania Mobile Ag Ed Science Lab, a 30-foot trailer featuring 12 work stations where students can complete hands-on experiments while learning about agriculture.

The idea for the festival was born when its founders saw a crucial need to encourage youth to pursue careers in STEM by celebrating science the same way Americans typically celebrate Hollywood celebrities, professional athletes and pop stars. Organizers hope to re-invigorate the interest of the nation’s youth in science, technology, engineering and math by producing and presenting the most compelling, exciting, educational and entertaining science festival in the United States.

Festival exhibits will include everything from flight simulators, virtual reality environments and surgical robots to making virus structures with marshmallows and toothpicks. Veering away from static, old-school science fair poster displays, the expo will feature dynamic, hands-on, interactive and fun activities, displays and demonstrations.

The expo is geared for teens, children and their families – anyone with a curious mind who is looking for a weekend of fun and discovery. Science celebrities including Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs” series, Bill Nye the Science Guy, David Pogue, host of “NOVA ScienceNow” series on PBS and Grammy Award-winning alternative music band “They Might Be Giants!” will be on hand.

New this year, the festival is hosting the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference, bringing in 2,500 STEM professionals from across the country, including many from science teacher associations.

About 15 percent of the U.S. workforce is employed in agriculture-related careers and more than 54,000 jobs for college graduates in the agricultural, food and renewable natural resources sectors are expected to be created annually from 2010-2015, according to the Agriculture Department. In addition to many career opportunities in the field, agriculture classes allow students to practice real applications of math, science and English concepts.


Cyndie Sirekis is director of internal communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.