Uni campus hosts STEM Festival in Tauranga

16 October 2019

School student Lola Stewart (left) with Senior Lecturer in marine science Shari Gallop (right) in the new Aqua Lab during the STEM Festival

The University of Waikato’s Tauranga campus was a hive of activity on Saturday (12 October) when more than 3,000 visitors took part in STEMFest, the city’s inaugural world-class gathering of innovators, educators, and cutting-edge technologists from the Bay of Plenty and beyond.

Durham Street’s freshened up streetscape in the heart of the CBD was the ideal location for the STEMFest ‘takeover’. The University’s main campus and newly opened science and engineering labs, along with neighbours Basestation, Trustpower, and Aspire2, played host to 40+ exhibitors and STEM-based shows. Designed to showcase what STEM industries the region is best known for, the event attracted exhibitors from the marine science, horticulture, biosecurity, engineering, construction, robotics and gaming.

Academic and technical staff from the University’s Hamilton campus joined their Tauranga colleagues for a day of active community engagement to deliver hands-on learning opportunities for children of all ages and their families. Representatives from the Schools of Science, Engineering, Computing and Mathematical Sciences, and Te Huataki Waiora School of Health pulled out the big guns with a plethora of free, family-friendly activities that ‘wowed’ the capacity crowd. Some of the most popular included: DNA extraction experiments, lightbot programming on tablets, a virtual reality game, wattbikes, the vertical jump challenge and the student-built WESMO car, to name a few.

Professor Chris Battershill, who spent the day at STEMFest with his team from the Coastal Marine Field Station, dubbed it “an outrageous success”.

“Everyone who came down ‘University Street’ had a huge appetite to participate in fun activities mixing Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths,” says Chris. “From simulating Polar ice melt or checking out how 'pretend' whale blubber keeps your hand warm in an ice bath, all the way through to identifying alien marine animals and flying underwater drones surveying the seafloor, our future innovators got the 'real feel' of discovery. For us in the tertiary sector, we got to see what talent and raw thirst for knowledge is coming our way. It gives us all hope that our future will be in good hands if the level of inquiry, demonstrated by the young people who we met on Saturday, is anything to go by!”

While some University staff acted as exhibitors for their respective Schools, others lent a hand as volunteers. Wearing her STEMFest organiser ‘hat’ for the day, Waikato Management School Tauranga’s Leading Through Innovation Clinic manager Deborah Begbie said the highlight of the day was “seeing families come together to share experiences, be amazed and inspired, and enjoy with wonderment the best of New Zealand’s STEM heroes”.

The first event of its kind in New Zealand, STEMFest founder and project lead Tia Lush says the concept for the event was inspired by Ada Lovelace Day (ALD). Ada Lovelace was a mathematician who worked with Charles Babbage back in 1843, and is considered to be the first female computer programmer, before computers even existed. Tia is the brainchild behind the first STEMFest event held in the City of Peterborough, United Kingdom three years ago. Bringing the event to her new home in the Bay was a no-brainer for the graphic designer who was thrilled how volunteers, sponsors and the community embraced the project from the outset.

“STEMFest could not have happened without the support from our generous main sponsors, including the University of Waikato,” says Tia. “From the very early conceptual planning through to the logistics right up to the final day, the team at the Tauranga campus have been outstanding and their contribution has enabled us to deliver a world-class STEM Festival to whānau in Tauranga Moana and New Zealand!”

The last event in the 2019 STEMFest calendar is on Wednesday 16 October from 5pm-7pm, in the University’s lecture theatre where Suw Charman-Anderson, founder of Ada Lovelace International Day, will speak about “Ada Lovelace and the Invention of Career”. For more information and to register for this free event, go to:

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