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McDougle Middle Hosts First TSA-STEM Expo

Despite the fact that it was a holiday weekend, the first Technology Student Association (TSA) STEM Expo was packed with families for much of the scheduled four hours at McDougle Middle School (MMS) on Saturday, January 19. The Expo got underway at 10:00 a.m., and within an hour, the crowds enjoying the activities and vendor tables were almost at capacity. Not bad, for an inaugural event!

Redmond Grigg teaches Technology and Design in the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program at MMS, and he serves as district coordinator for TSA, the national organization of middle and high school students who are engaged in STEM classes and clubs.  He said, “The event initially started as a means to have parents of my seventh grade classes see their children’s CO2 cars perform. It served as the anchor for the Expo. The Expo was born out of thinking how best to engage and educate the community about TSA and STEM in general.”

Grigg pulled off the event with the help of several volunteers, including Rebecca Poellot, a parent who worked countless hours with him, from the earliest planning stages. Poellot’s sixth grade daughter takes Technology with Grigg and joined TSA this year.  She said despite being unfamiliar with TSA, she recognized that technology is the direction of our children’s future, and she liked the prospect of her daughter experiencing many different avenues in STEM. “I'm an organizer and planner at heart,” said Poellot. “I casually offered my services of helping in any capacity to Mr. Grigg.  After a few meetings and seeing where the greatest needs were, the idea of an Expo to help raise much needed funds for TSA scholarships was born.”

FemStem The Expo took place in the MMS gym, and the activities were designed to appeal to students of all ages, including slime-making, Sphero-powered chariot racing, a virtual reality station, and the original Expo inspiration, the CO2 cars competing on a 65 foot track. Nearly 400 people bought tickets, many of them families with several children in tow, and many of them stayed to sample all of the learning opportunities and games. An extra component adding to the community atmosphere was the support provided by students from Chapel Hill High’s Academy of Information Technology and various TSA clubs, including FemStem members and CHHS NEXT, a club that brings together multiple student groups to provide VR (virtual reality) experiences to the community.

Grigg and his volunteers had no idea what level of attendance to expect, but as the event wound down towards 2:00, he seemed both delighted and stunned. “I wasn't sure how to take stock of it all, even as it unfolded in such grand fashion,” he said. “We are definitely doing it again, but with earlier planning on all fronts. It was gratifying to see it become so successful. It was a lot of hard work, and I have Rebecca to thank for partnering with me to make it a reality.”

MMS parent, Melissa Ussery Intintolo, attended with her eighth grade daughter Sophie. “As parent of a MMS TSA member, this was one of the most informative events in the past two years. Learning about what’s coming up from the CHHS TSA mentor and Academy of Information and Technology team, and seeing other girls who are engaged in these STEM activities resonated greatly with my daughter.”

The fundraising totals aren’t tabulated yet, but certainly the number of tickets sold will boost the TSA Scholarship fund to support more McDougle students’ participation in local and regional events. Poellot said, “MMS TSA goals are to ensure that lack of money isn't the reason why we don't have more diversity in the program. This Expo certainly helped to get us closer to our goal than we ever expected. We are so thankful and still in a bit of shock.

Grigg added, “The fund raising component was born out of the necessity to provide scholarship funding for TSA members who might not otherwise be able to attend both the state and national conferences. While these needs were at the McDougle chapter level, it made sense to open it up to be district-wide. We wanted to include everyone, so that they learn more about STEM and our TSA chapter as well.”

AOIT volunteer at TSA Expo “We appreciate all the vendors for providing such interactive, diverse, fun, hands-on, educational and engaging STEM booths,” said Poellot. “I think kids and parents learned something new, and kids being able to see and understand what STEM and TSA are about excited us. We want to thank all the volunteers, the school, the community, the communications groups for getting the word out, and most of all, Mr. Grigg, whose heart is in the right place to bring TSA and STEM to life for our future generation.”