At one end of the room, children pressed their faces up to a glass tank with bright eyes as they watched an underwater robot. Off in another corner, kids strained their necks to look at giant telescopes and shuffled through maps of the constellations.
Outside, carefully constructed miniature rockets that had just been made were launched high into the sky.
Over 500 elementary, middle, and high school students participated June 9 in the first annual HoCo STEM Festival at Howard Community College, in Columbia. The students, many joined by their parents, explored interactive exhibits, listened to career panel discussions and watched demonstrations and presentations from different STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) organizations.
The Committee to Enhance Stem, led by Phil Rogofsky, Joel Goodman, Bill Duncan, Melvin Smith, David Gertler, Kathy Lilly, Frances Turner and Kathy Laukzemis, organized the three-hour event.
"It was cool seeing new technology," said Davis Misner, a fifth-grader at Clemens Crossing Elementary School, who said his favorite part of the day was observing a 3D printer.
"I don't think kids realize how exciting and diverse science is," said Suzanne O'Farrell, who took her son, Avery O'Farrell, a fourth-grader at Bollman Bridge Elementary School, to the festival. "[Here] they can see physical things in motion. They had fun."
The presentations kept children interested with titles such as the Harry Potter themed Defense Against the Dark Arts by the National Security Administration.
Carter Matties, a fourth-grader at Centennial Lane Elementary School, said he enjoyed Ethical Hacking or "Survival Skills for the Zombie Apocalypse."
"I thought it was really interesting because my dad also does this type of thing at his work," he said.
Among the many organizations represented at the event were the Naval Academy, the Center of Disease Control, the American Statistical Association, and some of the county's robotics teams.
Gertler said the purpose of the event was to make children aware of the existing STEM activities and clubs.
He said it was also meant to "make students aware of the plethora of opportunities in STEM related fields that could be a source of fulfillment and professional careers" in an area with such a large concentration of STEM employers.
Naval Academy STEM program Associate Director Mark Murray said that to fill libratory positions in the future it is important to instill an interest in STEM in young students.
Gertler said feedback from the event was "overwhelmingly positive. Everyone walked out with a great big smile on their face."
He said the community can look forward to a math-only event this fall, along with the second annual HoCo STEM Festival on June 8, 2014. For more information, visit http://HoCoSTEMFestival.weebly.com.