School may be starting to wrap up for the summer, but there was still plenty of learning, experimenting, and fun happening at WPI this past Saturday during TouchTomorrow.
The sixth annual festival has become a summer staple for families around New England as well as the WPI and Worcester communities, and Saturday’s outing—and weather—didn’t disappoint. Nearly 10,000 guests spent the day on campus conducting experiments, meeting animals, touring labs, and more.
Known as a festival of science, technology, and robots, TouchTomorrow opens WPI’s campus to families and kids of all ages, giving them the chance to experiment with and explore different aspects of STEM fields through hands-on activities and exhibits. "TouchTomorrow is one of those campus traditions that brings out the best in WPI," says Kristin Tichenor, senior vice president of enrollment. "It’s so exciting to see the community come together–faculty, students, staff–to showcase all the exciting opportunities for young people in STEM." And while community members, corporate partners, and sponsors involved with TouchTomorrow look forward to the day's fun, the learning that goes on all day long is inspiring. "They see WPI as the place to be for cutting-edge science and engineering," says Tichenor. "And they see WPI as an institution committed to investing in the future of STEM education."
The many hands-on activities are a huge draw for all ages. “The enthusiasm this year was palpable, starting well before the official 10 a.m. opening,” says Stephanie Pasha, chief of staff in the president’s office, and one of the project leads on TouchTomorrow. Pasha goes on to explain that while they had planned to have a formal welcome at 10, attendees were already elbow-deep in making slime and participating in other activities by then, so they delayed the welcome rather than interrupting the action. “The energy was amazing, and many of our regulars, guests who’ve come in previous years, made a point of saying that this year was the best one yet.”
While the kids (and adults) were having fun with hands-on activities, Touch Tomorrow also provided an educational component for educators. According to Mia Dubosarsky, director of professional development at WPI's STEM Education Center, this was the first year that teacher workshops were offered during the day's events. "We also wanted to showcase what we are doing, and we offered four workshops for teachers," she says, noting that in years past, the educator workshops were offered a couple of days before Touch Tomorrow. Nearly 70 teachers (with some adult festival goers attending, too) came to the free workshops which included two STEM Education and Engineering Design workshops, one in Robotics for Educators, and one in Seeds of STEM, which shared curriculum with teachers of younger children. "They were enjoying the networks of the communities of practice and engaging in STEM challenges together," Dubosarsky says. "There were lots of good moments."
Over 30 companies and organizations, including TouchTomorrow’s media partner WGBH, the EcoTarium, Barnes & Noble, the Worcester Art Museum, and local robotics teams exhibited on campus, offering visitors the opportunity to control robots, learn about the solar eclipse, master the basics of coding, and a wide variety of fun and educational activities.
With so many activities to participate in during the event, it could be difficult to decide on a highlight, but for Pasha, walking down Discovery Crossing and watching faculty and students lead demonstrations and activities was her favorite experience this year. “It really shows how dedicated [they] are to science, to WPI, and to sharing their enthusiasm for what they do,” she says, especially considering the fact that the event takes place during a Saturday in the summer, long after the academic year has ended.
Eleanor Loiacono, professor in the Foisie Business School, took her six-year-old son to the event, which she says gets better every year. “As a mother, I loved seeing the way the volunteers engaged with the kids, let them ask questions, and just explore ideas—not having to worry if they were right or wrong, but just having fun finding out what worked,” she says. “Allowing parents to get involved was another great experience for us. It was great to show my son that learning is exciting, and that we were learning new things together.”
“As a mother, I loved seeing the way the volunteers engaged with the kids, let them ask questions, and just explore ideas—not having to worry if they were right or wrong, but just having fun finding out what worked." -Eleanor Loiacono
In addition to the nearly 50 faculty members and their students who opened their labs, ran demos of their work, and conducted mini experiments, over 275 members of the WPI community as a whole came out to volunteer, something for which Pasha is grateful.
“I could not be more proud of this community and the work that people from all parts of campus put in to ensure that our guests, especially our youngest ones, had the best day possible.”
Check out the photo slideshow below to get a taste of the day and relive some of your favorite memories; maybe you’ll even see yourself or some friends.
We hope to see you next year!
- By Allison Racicot