It's amazing what a schedule change and a little social media advertising can do.
Last year, the Southeast Iowa Regional Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Festival at Southeastern Community College attracted about 400 people.
This year, more than 1,800 people attended the fifth annual STEMFest Saturday morning, easily setting an attendance record for the event.
"We decided this year to the move the event from the spring to the winter to give families something to do to get out of the house," said Kristine Bullock, Southeast Iowa STEM regional manager. "‘We wanted to give it a different flair, and we did a better job of promoting on social media.”
Those weren't the only changes. While the usual STEM-related businesses such as Alliant Energy and Great River Health Systems returned this year, there were quite a new booths, such as the Niabi Zoo. The animals proved to be a big hit.
Absolute Science, a new, Davenport-based educational program, put on 30-minute science experiment shows every half-hour. Every seat inside the SCC classroom hosting the shows was full, leaving procrastinators to either stand or wait for the next showing.
"We do chemical experiments, some refraction experiments," scientist Rick Brammer said as his partner, Steve Couch, riled up the room by jovially yelling "science!"
Thad Maxell, 12, of Burlington was impressed with the new technology. He's been a regular at the festival the past few years, and he hopes to land a career in robotics. More particularly, he wants to build them.
"Since I was about 5 or 4, I've always been fascinated with building Legos and robots. My dad had something to do with that," he said with sheepish grin.
Maxwell was fascinated by the drones, which had an interactive video display on two large televisions. The lines for several of the activities, such as a simulated backhoe from Case, stretched around the entirety of the SCC gym for most of the afternoon.
While a quick glance around the college revealed more boys than girls, the difference was slight, and it seems to be eroding every year. Getting girls into STEM fields is one of the main goals of the festival, and it seems to be working.
"I'm just a big fan of all things science, like biology, chemistry, psychology. We've come out here for the past three years," said 13-year-old Alexis Stalcup of Fort Madison. "I'm mostly fascinated by all the technology based stuff, like the drones, the simulations. It's cool."
As fascinated as she was with the exhibits, Stalcup doesn't want to work in a technology field. Instead, she would rather use her knowledge to help others make those kind of career choices.
"My dream since I was younger, I've always wanted to be a teacher," she said.