To Irene Schweiger, the Sandy Springs Education Force’s STEAM Showcase is a fun way to expose students to the fields of science, technology, engineering, the arts and math.

“The STEAM programs, these are the in-demand fields. We all know that,” said Schweiger, the force’s executive director. “This is workforce development, quite frankly. This is what our employees here in Georgia are looking for, (as are) our businesses. What we’re doing is inspiring the kids to look at this stuff and say, ‘Hey, this is really cool. It’s fun. The technology is something that maybe I could do.’ If you see it you, can be it.

“The hope is they might pursue classes in math and science. They might pursue careers in that area. We have things in technology with the film industry here because that’s a burgeoning field, with the Georgia Film Academy and Medieval Times. So the kids can see where they could be. The idea of this is to inspire with cool and engaging exhibits. It’s not a career fair. It’s not where you hand out papers. As you go through it, you’ll see it’s all interactive, engaging things.”

The ninth annual showcase, held March 13 at North Springs Charter High School’s gym in Sandy Springs, included more than 40 cutting-edge exhibits ranging from healthcare to automobiles. During the daytime portion of the event, students from North Springs and other schools checked out the exhibits. That night, students from all 11 Sandy Springs public schools came to North Springs with their parents to demonstrate what they’ve learned in their schools’ STEAM programs.

Schweiger said the event started small but has grown by leaps and bounds.

“It started when we had a professor from the Morehouse College School of Medicine nine years ago,” she siad. “She said to me, ‘Irene, you have to get your (Sandy Springs students) involved with STEM. Of course, my son went to Georgia Tech, so I should know what I’m talking about. She was very involved with NASA and a lot of NASA grants, and she was able to get an astronaut to come here and speak at a couple of assemblies at different schools.

“And at night, we had this exhibit for the whole gym (with about 200 students viewing it), where we had from the Houston Space Center a space suit, the moon boots. We saw the kids come through and how exciting it was for them to engage in it and see it. ... Now, fast forward to today. We’ll have between 1,800 and 2,000 kids who will come through during the day. ... Then we’ve added the evening program because with this event, we have many sponsors, and the sponsorship money is used for after-school programs in our 11 Sandy Springs public schools, so those children will be exhibiting what they have done. So tonight the lower gym will be full with parents and children.”

One of the most popular exhibits for students to try out is Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital’s da Vinci Surgical System, a robotic program for doctors to conduct procedures for everything from hearts to hernias. Sherry Rogers, the Sandy Springs hospital’s director of robotics, said it has participated in the showcase for four years.

“We started with just the simulator, and for three years running, we’ve had the full system here,” she said. “This replicates everything we have at our surgery (operating rooms).”

Rogers said being able to virtually experience how doctors conduct surgeries is mind-boggling to students.

“They think initially it’s a video game and they want to come and play the video game,” she said. “Then, when we start talking to them about it, (saying) it’s actually a surgery robot and we do surgery (with it), they’re pretty blown away by that. Some of the older kids are interested in medicine already, so it’s pretty phenomenal. I have repeat customers. Some of them want to do more of the advanced things.”

Rogers said the hospital prioritizes getting children and youths interested in healthcare fields through events like the showcase and its own VolunTeen program.

“I have a VolunTeen program for robotic surgery, so we do this every year and they dedicate us all day to come here. It’s huge for them.”

North Springs senior Mohamed Bah, who has attended the showcase all four years he’s been at the school, said he’s focusing on a career path involving foreign languages and business, but enjoyed trying out the da Vinci system.

“It’s really cool, especially the one with the surgeons when I actually use my hands to control this robot and pick up things,” Bah said. “It was really cool. I’ve never seen that in my life.”

North Springs sophomores Katie Peterka and Abie Horne agreed.

“I think it definitely is (inspiring us to enter STEAM fields) because it’s exposing us to all the new ideas and things and cool things like the lasers over there and cool experiments,” Peterka said.

Horne said the showcase allows students to see “all the possibilities of what we can do.”

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