A chance to drive robots, play with tornadoes and even test piloting skills with flight simulators will be offered at the free Northeast Iowa Family STEM Festival Thursday, March 14 at NICC.

These fun-filled activities are 4-7:30 p.m. at the Wilder Business Center at the Calmar campus of Northeast Iowa Community College. The festival is designed to provide fourth through eighth grade students a unique opportunity to explore the wonders of science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM.

More than 40 exhibitors including KWWL-TV, the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa

State University and the University of Iowa will provide hands-on experiments and activities.

"I believe family festivals are an opportunity to spark learning in a very personal way," said Cliff Chancey, head of the UNI Department of Physics. "When young students and their parents explore STEM together, the initial surprise and wonder often develops into a long-term passion for learning. You can see it in their eyes."

Additional STEM Festival activities include hazmat suits, Lego League, understanding catapults, science on a stick, electronic handheld microscopes, a blow-up astronomy booth, sumo robots, a basketball shooting robot and wind turbines.

Hosted by the Northeastern Iowa Regional STEM Hub, the Northeast Iowa Family STEM Festival is a free event for students and their families from Allamakee, Central, Clayton Ridge, Decorah Community, Eastern Allamakee, Edgewood-Colesburg, Fredericksburg, Howard-Winneshiek, MFL-Marmac, Nashua-Plainfield, New Hampton, North Fayette, North Winneshiek, Oelwein, Postville, Riceville, South Winneshiek, Starmont, Turkey Valley, Valley and West Central community school districts.

"We are so excited to be able to offer the first STEM Festival for our families in Northeast Iowa," said James Hoelscher, Northeast Iowa STEM hub manager. "It's important to reach out to upper elementary and middle school students and open their eyes to the world of possibilities that STEM can bring them."

The Northeast Iowa Family STEM Festival is a collaborative partnership between NICC, Winneshiek County Development, Inc., Keystone Area Education Agency, Iowa Works, Upper Explorerland Regional Planning Commission, the Northeast Iowa Business Network and the Northeast Iowa Regional STEM Hub.

"The STEM Festival is not only a fun event, but it is an important one too because it plants seeds for today's elementary students to start thinking of entering STEM-related fields as career opportunities," said Randy Uhl, Winneshiek County Development Inc. director.

Iowa faces critical shortages in STEM workers in both the near and long term, Uhl added. Projections indicate Iowa will need about 67,000 STEM jobs by 2018, up from about 58,000 in 2008.

For more information about the STEM Festival, go to iExploreSTEM.org

or call Winneshiek County Development Director Uhl at 382-6061.