Science & Technology

STEMzone offers family-friendly activities before kickoff

A girl enjoys STEMzone butterflies at last year's event. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker/UGA)

Before this Saturday’s Auburn game kickoff, campus visitors in red and black and UGA STEM researchers will mingle on the lawn of the Miller Learning Center. Starting at 3 p.m., they will have conversations over reptiles from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and butterflies from the Odum School of Ecology. They will learn about the science of concussions, and they will pilot remotely operated vehicles at the ECOGIG booth.

And when kickoff approaches and the MLC lawn empties as fans make their way to the stadium, both the football fans and the STEM researchers will know a little bit more about the academics and athletics thriving in Athens—both points of pride at UGA.

Campus visitors drawn to Athens for football games do not always have cause or opportunity to learn about the research taking place at the university. In 2017, Reni Kaul, a Ph.D. candidate at the Odum School of Ecology, noticed a disconnect between the people who come to UGA to cheer on the football team in Sanford Stadium and the academics in science, technology, engineering and math—the STEM disciplines. And in doing so, she recognized an opportunity.

Kaul founded STEMzone UGA in 2017 to help STEM students and organizations on campus share their research with football tailgaters heading to the stadium to cheer on the Bulldogs. Following in the footsteps of “Science at the Stadium,” the interactive program pioneered by Samantha Joye, UGA Athletic Association Professor of Marine Sciences, and the ECOGIG research consortium, STEMzone offers plenty of hands-on family-friendly activities. Last year’s inaugural event was a success, and volunteers and attendees recognized the unique communication opportunity STEMzone afforded.

Caitlin Conn—a Ph.D. student at the Odum School of Ecology—prioritizes this type of science communication, and she has been a volunteer with STEMzone from its inception.

“Scientists want others to know how our research fits into our greater understanding of the world and how it can be used. Events like STEMzone provide opportunities to engage with people we might never come into contact with otherwise—not to tell them everything we know, but to meet them where they are and exchange ideas,” Conn said.

Events that focus on communicating UGA’s STEM research to campus visitors are particularly important at a time when increased resources are being devoted to improving campus STEM facilities. UGA has embarked on a two-phase project to grow its STEM facilities, with the first costing $34.8 million and slated for completion in September 2021. David Lee, vice president for research at UGA, emphasized that financial investment in these buildings is reflective of UGA’s investments in those who will research here and the work they will produce.

“UGA is committed to having state-of-the-art STEM research and education programs that attract the best and brightest faculty and students, drive innovation and economic development, and encourage solutions to today’s pressing challenges,” Lee said.  “Attracting the best talent and building impactful programs requires state-of-the-art facilities. And, more than ever before, today’s science requires that researchers with different expertise come together to work on cross-cutting solutions. The new STEM facility is designed with these needs in mind.