STEAM-powered carnival seeks to create tomorrow’s engineers

150 150 Michelle Bergmann

Two Bit Circus events feature science and engineering related games and demonstrations. (Photo: Two Bit Circus/Curious Josh) 

This article was oringally posted on the California Economic Summit website.

A modern-day circus is coming to Los Angeles to showcase technology-infused games for kids of all ages—think lasers, fire and robots—while still bringing in traditional carnival elements. The STEAM Carnival, STEAM standing for science, technology, engineering, art and math, debuts the weekend of October 25. The Carnival will be hosted by Two Bit Circus, a company whose founders want to hook kids into science and technology, rebrand the engineer image and show how those awesomely cool games they have been playing are created by “nerds.”

“It is shocking to us that there is still this weird branding problem for engineering and science and that it’s still not a desirable field,” said Brent Bushnell, CEO and “roustabout” of Two Bit Circus. “We just think that it’s ridiculous because here we are playing with lasers!”

Two Bit Circus leverages the younger generations’ passion for art, music, fashion and games and incorporates it into technology. That means watching a battle of robot bands or a wearable technology fashion show. It’s a reminder that awesome games, like the ones at the Carnival including lazer maze limbo and shooting down asteroids, are just as cool as the processes in which they were built. Who wouldn’t want that job?

The Carnival comes along during a time in California when tech-based companies have thousands of open jobs and need trained workers. Boosting STEM education (note STEAM minus the “A” for arts) in California means investing in the well-payed workforce of California’s future. And the STEAM Carnival is just the type of event to get young people engaged in what companies need to succeed.

“The most recent data shows there are two jobs open for every new graduate coming into the workforce in California. It doesn’t matter the area,” said Chris Roe, president and CEO of California STEM Learning Network. “We are hearing from employers that they desperately need trained employees.”

The STEAM Carnival is not supposed to be just a fun event, but also an initiative to change the future by planting a seed in children at a young age to get them engaged in science and technology. 

“If we are going to close that STEM gap we want to hook the non-STEM kids so we chose three domains that we know all kids like and then basically hijack those disciplines to include a themed curriculum…the idea is to leverage things that they love,” said Bushnell.

Something the California Economic Summit’s Workforce Action Team to help close that gap is encouraging a seamless pathway from education to the employment. The team is facilitating direct partnerships between California’s schools and major companies so the companies can communicate their future needs for success and schools can provide effective training.

Alma Salazar, vice president of education and workforce development at the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and Workforce Action Team co-lead, is confident these types of initiatives will lessen the divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” in California.

“It really isn’t just a K-12 problem or education problem. It’s a systems problem,” said Salazar. “It’s collective. It’s a pipeline challenge we are addressing effectively.”

Programs of change like Two Bit Circus, STEM education initiatives, and the Workforce Action Team are vital to California’s future economy. The big challenge for them is not the lack of jobs in California, but the education pathways of trained workers to fill jobs.

“The founders of Two Bit Circus came from the workforce and developed a program to address what they saw, which is what was lacking in California’s education system,” said Roe.

The STEAM carnival will spark interest and teach kids how to solve real world problems by developing prototypes, just like working engineers do. And according to Bushnell, it’s not so bad being trained in engineering and technology. Companies need it and kids love it.

“This is the new rock ‘n’ roll,” said Bushnell.


Michelle Bergmann

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