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Howard students entertained, educated at 'Party for Math'

When NASA's James Webb Space Telescope launches into orbit in 2018, some Howard County students will be able to say they've had first-hand interaction with the infrared technology that will be on board.

At the second annual Howard County Math Festival Tuesday at Centennial High School, students had an opportunity to test out infrared cameras used on the telescope that measures three stories high and is the length of a tennis court.

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Throughout the 2 1/2-hour event showcasing science, technology and math activities as well as potential careers in these fields, Colleen Quinn-House walked students through the basics of how infrared technology works.

"I love the kids," said the public outreach representative from NASA. "Who knows if I'm talking to a next Nobel laureate."

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Quinn-House was one of many representatives presenting different aspects of STEM careers at the festival, sponsored by STEMulating Minds, a group of community members and parents interested in expanded student opportunities within STEM fields; and XAPP Media, a Washington ad agency.

The event offered entertaining activities for students in elementary school through high school. STEMulating Minds also hosts a STEM Festival annually at Howard Community College.

In addition to NASA, other presenters included the Baltimore Orioles, The Mall in Columbia, Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Air Force.

Students also had an opportunity to work in small groups with a video game designer and talk with Katie Egan, one of the parents behind the Fulton Elementary computer programming club for girls.

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For high school students, area colleges and individuals representing professions such as an actuary, economist and pharmacist, spoke to students about enrolling in their programs or seeking a career in these fields.

"I like to think of it as a party for math," said Phil Rogofsky, an event organizer.

Howard County Board of Education member Larry Walker, who could be found perusing the event's features, called the event phenomenal, adding that students can follow any career path with math.

"Math is the gateway to future success," Walker said.

The first annual Math Festival — held in January because of snowstorms in November last year — attracted about 600 people, but event organizers said they expected that number to double this time around.

Dave Gertler, a member of STEMulating Minds and parent of a Centennial student, stressed that in today's society there are many more career opportunities than there were previously.

Using himself as an example, he said he could have studied to be an actuary or math professor, but now the cybersecurity industry and others have greatly expanded opportunities for students.

"This is our era," he said of students interested in math. "Math is cool after all."

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