STEAM Fair draws 1,400 to Behrend’s Junker Center

Three girls experiment with a robotic pen at Penn State Behrend's annual STEAM Fair.

The annual STEAM Fair at Penn State Behrend featured more than 100 hands-on activity stations, where area youth experimented with robots, bottle rockets, plasma balls and other technology.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

ERIE, Pa. — Robots were a big draw at Penn State Behrend’s STEAM Fair on Feb. 26. One stacked cones onto a stick. Another tossed oversized tennis balls to onlookers. Others skirted around the feet of the crowd, which included more than 1,400 attendees.

The annual STEAM Fair features more than 100 hands-on activity stations, each of which focuses on an aspect of science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics learning. The event is coordinated by the Office of Youth Education Outreach at Behrend, with support from Wabtec and WQLN.

Seven-year-old Lucy Miller waited at the ready while a volunteer worked an air pump, priming a bottle rocket. When the rocket was ready, Lucy pulled the string that launched it.


Her father, Nick Miller, a 2012 Behrend graduate, wanted her to experience the thrill of STEM.

“I really want to get her interested in science and technology, because that is what I studied as an engineering major here,” he said. “I want to get her doing fun things in order to see the science and engineering that is behind everyday life.”

Exhibits at the STEAM fair ranged from the distant past — dinosaur skeletons assembled from foam pieces — to the future: more robots.

Other activity stations featured circuit mazes; a wading pool filled with Oobleck, a gooey blend of water and corn starch; and a space show in an inflatable planetarium.

Students from Behrend’s Materials and Manufacturing Group demonstrated the metal-casting process, creating souvenir keychains. Guests chose a design, vacuumed out the molds and watched as volunteers poured the molten tin.

“That was really cool, how they molded the metal,” said Isaiah Dreakford, 8.

Isaiah’s father, Daniel Dreakford, brought his two children to the fair.

“It sounded really interesting, and it was a free family activity, so we thought we’d check it out,” he said. “We’re having a blast.”

The volunteers were having fun, too.

“I love doing this,” said R.J. Carnes, who volunteered at a table for Eriez Magnetics. The company taught children how to turn on a light bulb by touching it to a plasma ball.

“Because you cannot see magnetic fields, we try to show you them,” Carnes said.

Melanie Ford, the director of Youth Education Outreach at Behrend, said the STEAM Fair is an important part of the college’s land-grant mission to give back to the community. The activity tables pique curiosity and allow children to make discoveries about the world and their own interests.

“This is our next generation of kids who will go to college and into the workforce — the next generation of movers and shakers,” she said. “We want to introduce them to new things and help them find their passions. They don’t have to wait until high school. They can start right now.”