IEEE-USA InFocus

IEEE-USA Exhibit a Huge Hit at USA Science & Engineering Festival

By Dusty Fisher

Downloadable
2014 Report

(500 KB PDF)

IEEE-USA participated in the USA Science & Engineering Festival for the third time, 25-27 April, and once again contributed to a highly successful event. More than 325,000 people walked through the doors of the Washington, D.C. Convention Center. Of that, based on the number of giveaways we handed out, we had more than 11,000 visitors to the IEEE-USA exhibit.

On day one – a Friday – more than 40,000 attended. These included school groups, special-needs students, teachers, politicians and the media. Our exhibit received great attention from the hearing-impaired students and their chaperones because we had lots of flashing, blinking and steady lights; these students really enjoyed spending time with us and were a joy to be around.

In years past, there was no time to do any one-on-one, interactive displays with our booth visitors. This year was different. Because the festival took over the entire convention center, the dense crowds were spread throughout the halls. We were in Hall A, which continued to receive heavier traffic. Our two activities – a residential wiring display with switches, LED, incandescent and CFL bulbs – and coding lessons provided by Patricia Edwards of the IEEE Computer Society, were a big hit and very engaging.

Contrary to what one might think, some kids showed a genuine fascination for 3-way switching, wiring and the different amounts of energy each bulb consumes. A definite connection was made. People also liked our selfie station, shooting cell-phone photos left and right.

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Once again, parents and their children returned to our exhibit from past years. I heard a number of parents say, “My kids wanted to find your booth.” This was very rewarding. We have been excellent ambassadors for engineering and IEEE-USA from the first USA Science & Engineering Festival on the National Mall in October 2010.

Our handouts were gobbled up at a feverish pace, especially on Friday. The bookmarks we gave away, containing the message, “Engineers Make a World of Difference,” were snapped up rapidly. By Sunday afternoon, we were handing out lights from our banner.

Volunteers Make it Possible

I couldn’t possibly have done all this without a great group of IEEE staff and volunteers. Jeffry Handel has been with me for all three festivals, each time coming from Baton Rouge, La. His efforts – recruiting, training and engaging with all – make such a difference. From the first festival to this one, he is the wind beneath many, many wings.

Jeffry’s fellow volunteers included IEEE-USA President Dr. Gary Blank, who attended the event with his wife, Bonnie, and grandson, Solomon Klein; Steve Bonk, Ralph Russell, Jeff Friedhoffer, Murty Polavarapu, Ata and Lessie Atanasov, Carole Carey, Nita Patel and Karen Panetta.

Karen is the founder of Nerd Girls and IEEE-USA vice president of communications and public awareness. The 200 t-shirts she brought to the exhibit – geared toward encouraging girls to become engineers – were gone in minutes. Even a few boys wanted one.

On the staff side, in addition to Patricia Edwards, we had help from Eric Berkowitz (Computer Society) and Chris McManes and Daryll Griffin, both of IEEE-USA. Michael Geselowitz of the IEEE History Center, provided pop-up banners, handouts and books on such subjects as the history of electricity. The books were very popular, and some new members were recruited.

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I thank our many booth volunteers for making this such a wonderful festival. Their energy, warmth, commitment and joie de vivre encourage us all, inspiring the many people they touched this weekend. You never know what might spark an interest in engineering in a child or encourage him or her to do better in school.

The science and engineering message wasn’t confined to the nation’s capital that weekend. Connie Kelly, a member of the IEEE-USA EWeek 2014 Planning Committee, helped organize a satellite festival at Oakton Community College’s Center for Promoting STEM in Des Plaines, Ill. She reports that the event attracted “a great group of students and teachers.”

Although no date has been set, look for the next USA Science & Engineering Festival to be in 2016.

I think we must make a better attempt to attract more volunteers – particularly from our Washington, D.C.-area sections – and draw from our student members. I think youngsters can relate better to engineers who aren’t much older than them.

We should start planning for the next festival early and keep the messaging out there. It would be good to encourage our regions and sections to either host a festival or have a booth. The one thing we learned from this festival is that these events are here to stay.

Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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