NACAC launched its STEM College and Career fairs in 2016 to give students interested in science, technology, engineering, and math an opportunity to explore and gather career and college information. We sat down with Anika Kwinana, NACAC’s assistant director of National College Fairs, programs and services, to talk about what’s special about STEM fairs.
NACAC runs 64 national college fairs and 26 performing and visual arts fairs per year. Why add more to this already robust program?
NACAC members were our catalyst. It’s a great story of how members came together with NACAC staff at a national conference and started to conceptualize what would later become STEM College and Career Fairs.
And it makes sense. We know that the fields related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are demanding the next generation of professionals, often for jobs that are yet to be created. The technologically-driven age we are in is not going away. We are primed to provide a platform for our attendees to learn more about these degrees and careers, and our exhibitors and sponsors are ready to engage them. If not us, then who?
How did NACAC staff and volunteers get this program off the ground?
With the approval of our Board of Directors, NACAC staff and volunteers worked together through the Ad Hoc Committee on STEM Programming. Comprised of some of the initial members who created the concept with NACAC staff and other recommended members, the group met to bring structure and a look and feel to what would become the STEM College and Career Fairs pilot project.
We worked to designate local liaisons who would help select appropriate venues and to market the fairs to potential attendees and exhibitors, as well as help us find ways to attract industry sponsors and exhibitors.
The idea was always that colleges, industry exhibitors, and sponsors exhibit together.
Can you share a success story from the first year of fairs?
We know we have a great program. We have been excited to see a wide range of STEM-related faculty participate in the fairs, as well as some postsecondary institutions new to college fairs.
Creating inroads with STEM industry exhibitors has been challenging, but we have worked hard to make our programs known and to share the benefits of participation. We were very excited to have Bristol-Myers Squibb and TechPrep by Facebook participate as sponsors this year. Both were completely engaged onsite, participating on panels or hosting workshops. Bristol-Myers Squibb spoke on diversity in STEM at workshops at all three fairs last fall. TechPrep by Facebook is a free coding program, so for their workshops, a Facebook employee taught our attendees how to code using devices that Facebook provided.
These kinds of industry engagements are exactly what make STEM College and Career Fairs unique and relevant. They only add to the range of fairs NACAC offers.
Why do the stem college and career fairs include the “career” element when other fairs don’t?
The National College Fairs are broad by design—a perfect introduction to many attendees about the admission process. It is always rewarding at these fairs when students come in looking nervous or timid, but are confident and equipped by the time they leave.
The Performing and Visual Arts College Fairs have a similar goal, but are specifically for attendees who have been studying their art form for years.
STEM College and Career Fairs add another dimension, because they are perfect for students interested or curious about degrees and careers in STEM. The career element then alerts them to the growing range of career pathways available.
Attendees are looking to learn about potential internships, scholarships, summer programs, and other relevant STEM activities—all are available at STEM College and Career Fairs.
What type of exhibitors (colleges and industry) do you hope to attract and why?
We are looking to attract like-minded exhibitors, ones who see STEM as an opportunity for students from all backgrounds, and how preparing the STEM pipeline is a matter of urgency given the shortage of professionals in these fields. All exhibitors are welcome. We know the students want information—more than they came in with about their degree and career options. They want to be mentored. STEM College and Career Fairs provide mentoring moments for all exhibitors.
What type of students do you hope to attract and why?
As always, our fairs are free and open to the public. While STEM fields required a certain academic caliber, we want to also attract students new to or curious about STEM. The fairs include two-year and four-year educational options that lead to quality careers. They are ideal for all types of students.
WHAT’S THE BREAKDOWN SO FAR? WHO’S COMING TO THESE FAIRS, WHERE ARE THEY COMING FROM, AND IN WHAT NUMBERS?
In 2016, we expected about 500 students per site and about 100 exhibitors. We immediately found that our registration numbers surpassed those expectations. We had 900/103 in Houston; 1,200/102 in New York City; and 1300/120 in South San Francisco. Some attendees traveled up to eight hours to get to the events.
We knew immediately that we needed to think bigger and broader. For 2017, we contracted bigger spaces and had over 4,000 attendees in all four sites. We were able to double our exhibitors in New York and increase our exhibitors to 153 in Houston and 157 in Silicon Valley.
So far, the stem program is three fairs per season. Why did you pick these particular fair sites? How do you hope to reach students beyond the fair locations?
Three per season is not our limit, but where we started. Our ad hoc committee helped us determine these sites based on their STEM related strengths. However, as we expand, we may very well hit cities that some people don’t realize have strong STEM industries. For instance, Atlanta will be added to our 2018 fall season.
Your first-ever spring season is coming up. What’s new and exciting?
Our spring fairs will take place in St. Louis, Baltimore, and Denver. The cities themselves and the attendees there make the events exciting and unique. We are hoping that our great push to get more industry sponsors will bring stimulating hands-on activities.
Our ad hoc committee officially disbanded at the 2017 National Conference, the NACAC Board of Directors has recently approved a new Ad Hoc Committee for STEM Partnerships. We know concentrating on key industry players will help to improve our fairs and our visibility, as well as visibility for companies and organizations who, like us, are passionate about exposing students to STEM degrees and careers.
NEW FAIRS COMING THIS SPRING
St. Louis | March 4
Saint Louis University – Busch Student Center
Baltimore | March 22
Coppin State University – Physical Education Complex
Denver | June 3
University of Denver – Gates Field House
From NACAC’s Journal of College Admission Number 238 / Winter 2018