Coding a new experience: first STEM make-a-thon launches

Hunched over the electrical modules, Robert Liu, eighth grader at Colina Middle School, works with his partner to create a light from scratch. After the workshop they attended earlier on Monday, they swiftly accomplished this, the light glowing brightly, and were soon able to make it change colors. But they did not learn this from a class in school; this was taught at the first workshop of the first ever Conejo Hackfest.

The brainchild of Amy Fang, NPHS graduate of 2016 and attendee of MIT, the Hackfest is a three day program where students form ages 12-18 can learn more about coding and STEM, then take their knowledge to create whatever they want in the competition on Friday. After the first workshop on Monday, Fang was excited for the rest of the event and expressed her motivation for creating it.

“A lot of people aren’t introduced to STEM at an early age and there is a really big stigma towards STEM, a lot of people are scared it’s too hard, it’s confusing, all that stuff, so this event is mainly just exposing kids to STEM and also having fun,” Fang said.

When Fang thought of this idea a month ago, she immediately started contacting people in Conejo Valley, forming a committee with high schoolers and other college freshmen to make this happen. They were able to get a venue, make t-shirts, make flyers, and most importantly get a sponsor.

“I actually interned at Microduino, which is the company providing all of the electronic parts, and then I was just like hey, they make electronic and educational parts for kids, . . . so I wanted to make that connection between kids and this company Microduino to make whatever they want,” Fang said.

Microduino not only donated all of the electrical kits for the students to use, but Fang said Microduino may even be planning to expand the event in the future, potentially covering all of Ventura County. Sonny Sung, employee of Microduino, was onsite to help the students with any technical issues or questions that arose, and he already wanted to come back next year.

“It’s interesting to see how much kids know and how quickly they can learn,” Sung said.

This “amateur make-a-thon,” as Fang calls it, is the first of it’s kind, and while Fang is going back to college soon, she says the committee is excited to carry on the event. Liu said that he will probably come back next year, and that he was having fun, even just in the first workshop.

“I learned stuff I didn’t know. . . I’ve never done anything like this, it’s the first,” Liu said.

However, the event is not over yet, and Fang encourages everyone to join. The next workshop is on Wednesday and the competition if on Friday. Not only is registration free at the Conejo Hackfest Eventbrite website, but whoever makes the coolest creation gets to take home these very expensive electrical kits and have the chance to win gift cards. More than the prizes, though, the Hackfest is an opportunity for everyone to learn more about STEM.

“Anyone can do something like this. It’s very easy, it’s really fun, and you don’t even have to want to do STEM in the future,” Fang said. “I think it is really important to always keep your mind open and try new things. Everyone should come to Hackfest.”

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