CHARLOTTE -- Thousands of middle schoolers from Charlotte and the surrounding area packed the Charlotte Convention Center Wednesday for the CIAA's seventh annual Education Day. This year's theme was science, technology, engineering and math, better known as STEM.
It looked more like a pep rally than a science seminar, but make no mistake, students were learning.
"There is a shortage of future STEM professionals,” said Roger Hathaway, the director of education at NASA Langley's Research Center. “And we want to encourage these students at this age level, make them aware of some of those opportunities."
NASA engineers teamed up with NASCAR officials to show students how science and technology play pivotal roles in their fields--from the food astronauts eat in space to driver's helmets.
"We get a whole lot of our technology from NASA,” said NASCAR driver Ryan Gifford. “When it comes to our fire suits, things to keep us safe whenever there's a fire or hard impact or anything like that."
That technology went to good use just this past weekend during a big crash at Daytona. As one of the a few black drivers in NASCAR, Gifford hoped to teach the teens another important lesson.
"I hope it does encourage more kids, especially more minorities, to join the sport because I think it will be a good thing for the sport and for everybody else," he said.
Dozens of colleges and exhibitors were also on hand. For seventh grader William Greier, Wednesday's fair was an opportunity to explore the field he plans to go into one day. "My dad, he works for Siemens and it's an engineering type thing," he said.
Michelle Starlaper, an eighth grader at West Rowan Middle School, also thought the fair was interesting even though she doesn't want to make science a career. "You use technology in everyday life basically," she said. "And technology is always improving and stuff like that and discovering new things."
It was a little food for thought as the students contemplate their future.
Thursday, the CIAA will host the Food Lion Health and Wellness symposium at the Presbyterian Hospital Training Center from 11 a.m to 9 p.m.