As students file into their 4th grade class at Sechrist Elementary, a photo of molten lava is streaming out of a volcano. “Volcanoes are Awesome!” is written across the top. There is a presenter at the front of the class that the kids aren’t familiar with, but that cool photo with hot lava catches their attention!

Volcano expert, Greg Vaughan, is speaking to the class today about his work understanding volcanoes.

“What is a volcano?” he asks.

Hands across the room shoot up. “Yes,” says Greg pointing to a student.

“A mountain with lava inside,” says one.

“A mountain that was formed by tectonic plates and the magma has erupted.” says another.

“You know about tectonic plates. That’s great!” says Greg and points to another hand in the air.

“A piece of earth that has, like, hot lava or magma.”

“Good, good, yes!” says Greg. He asks them what comes out of volcanoes and students guess ash, lava, smoke. Greg passes around ashes from Mount St. Helens and a “volcano bomb” from another volcano so that each student can touch and hold items that were once inside of volcanoes.

Today’s presentation is one of dozens taking place this semester where local STEM professionals go into classrooms and tell their exciting stories, first hand, with students. Speakers open their eyes to the possibilities of becoming scientists when they grow up. The students can connect, relate and imagine themselves as science experts too. Inspired by these magical presentations, students are sparked by STEM learning, and motivated to learn more.

During Greg’s presentation, he asks the students what they are interested in doing.

“I want to be an engineer.”

“Engineering. We need more engineers. We need more scientists,” Greg says.

“I want to do physics.”

“I want to be an archaeologist.”

“Alright, well the fact is any one of you could be a scientist one day if you wanted to! Find something you love and do that. I found geology. I love volcanoes…I have a job doing something I love to do. But you know what? The other thing I love to do is come to classrooms to talk to kids!”

Through the Festival's In-School Speaker program, the students we are reaching now are the next doctors and climate scientists. They are the next educators, inventors, and rocket scientists.

As the presentation wraps up Greg asks, “What’s great about science?”

“You can learn stuff that you don’t know about.”

“Science experiments!”

“You don’t have to feel bad if you mess up.”

Greg replies, “That’s right, making mistakes is how you learn. So, you have to be OK with trying something and failing and learning something from it.”

Another hand reaches for the air, “There’s a sign in the gym that says, ‘It’s better to try and fail, than never try again.’”

“Exactly right,” Greg agrees.