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USF Engineering Expo Melds Learning With Fun

The University of South Florida Engineering Expo, a free two-day event that gives children a chance to see what it's like to be a scientist, is taking place this weekend. 

Full of hands-on exhibits and shows, the expo allows children to explore research labs, conduct hundreds of experiments, and even meet a robot named Baxter.

Held every year on the USF Tampa campus, the expo encourages young people in grades K-12 to study science, technology, engineering and math.

Charlotte Haberstroh, the vice president of the American Association of University Women, ran a booth designed to motivate girls to think about what they want to be when they grow up.

There were lab coats, hard hats, goggles and chemistry beakers filled with a bright orange liquid.

"We hope to encourage women and girls to have the confidence to pursue whatever career they want to be," she said. "A lot of time girls are worried that when they go into science and engineering, that they're not good or smart enough. We want to change that."

Men outnumber women studying STEM in early education.

Although female students' achievements in mathematics and science are on par with their male peers, women make up less than one-quarter of women in STEM jobs, according to  Catalyst, a nonprofit women's advocacy group.

Credit Tim Fanning / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Students from Immanuel Lutheran school learning about dry ice at the USF Engineering Expo on Friday.

Organizations like Haberstroh's hope to close that gap with speakers and career development workshops. And it can start at a young age.

"When they're young, they're not so shaped by society," Haberstroh said. "There are also many cool programs for kids to learn about science and find out what they really want to do."

Lauren Schneider, 10, once did a week-long experiment with Loki, her 2-year-old yorkie. She was trying to find out what kind of food he liked the best. 

"It turned out that, even though he liked salmon with stuff, he liked plain chicken better," the aspiring zoologist said.

Chemical engineer Danielle Rehberg, 23, returns to the Expo every year to help inspire future generations.

"We can do much so much to expose to so many young women, and young boys as well, into going into science and to learning about our world," she said.

Rehberg's love for science started young, as she watched the Discovery Channel at 3-years-old.

Credit Tim Fanning / WUSF Public Media
WUSF Public Media
Students at the USF Engineering Expo on Friday. The event is geared to help encourage more students to pursue fields in science and mathematics.

"I always had a knack for engineering," she said. "I enjoyed creating things and making electrical circuits as a kid. I tore things up and rebuilt them in to different objects. It's what I was always meant to do, I think."

The Expo, run entirely by students, has historically brought over 10,000 visitors to campus yearly, according to organizers. It showcases the College of Engineering, USF Academic departments, student organizations and exhibits from local engineering firms.

The Expo will continue 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. 

Tim Fanning is a WUSF Public Media Stephen Noble intern for spring 2018.
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