On May 28, Sequim High School, in conjunction with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, hosted a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) night for the community to bring awareness of some of what PNNL does, both at their Marine Sciences Laboratory facility in Sequim and throughout the Pacific Northwest, and to help invigorate interest in the STEM fields from the attendees.
The event featured a number of displays on their environmental science efforts, including research diving, fish monitoring and tracking, and different fields of water analysis, including a display for a project on potentially utilizing algae as bio-fuel.
The star attraction, though, was a series of Oculus VR headsets from PNNL’s computer science education branch, featuring three different interactive games they’ve developed to help teach different computer science concepts. The tables featuring the headsets had a long line for most of the event, with children and adults alike enjoying what they offered.
Those VR headsets represented more than just the fun the event attendees were having, though: they represented the partnership Sequim School District has been forming with PNNL and Battelle, the company that runs the lab for the Department of Energy.
Battelle recently gifted the school district with 25 Oculus Go units to use for computer and technology education purposes, as well as a 3D printer and all the materials and equipment to run and maintain it. That comes a little more than a year after Battelle provided a $50,000 matching grant to the school district for computer science funding, matching an equal grant from the state.
During a brief speech at the STEM event, Sequim School District superintendent Gary Neal spoke about how important that partnership was for the district and the students they serve.
“The STEM fields aren’t just the jobs of the future,” Neal told the attendees of the event. “They’re the jobs of now.”
Neal told the gathered crowd that he wanted to bring more awareness to the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the modern world going forward, and that Battelle is helping to get students ready for that modern world.
State Rep. Steve Tharinger echoed similar sentiments during his own short speech at the event, praising the work of PNNL and Battelle around not just Sequim but across all of Washington state to not just on their various facilities’ specialized tasks, but on helping their communities to be better educated about STEM subjects.
For their part, PNNL representative Jud Virden and Roger Snyder of the U.S. Department of Energy made it clear that they feel events like this are important for their community outreach and education programs, detailing the amount of work that went into preparing it.
“We couldn’t get too geeky too quick,” Burt said laughing, speaking of wanting to make sure the event was accessible and understandable to everyone, not just people already hip-deep in scientific interest.
Snider said that PNNL are “committed” to making sure that this event was just the first of many like it.