From August 20-22, 2021, SAME members from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., came together to staff a booth at Awesome Con for three days of activities and conversations with the conference’s 70,000 fans of comics, science fiction, fantasy, manga, and superhero movies.
Many superheroes, including Tony Stark (Iron Man), Bruce Banner (The Hulk), and Shuri (Princess of Wakanda) are highly skilled engineers. For the booth at Awesome Con, the team created a sign for each of these STEM Superheroes and let visitors take a picture of themselves with their favorite. It’s probably no surprise that a young Black Panther cosplayer chose his sister Shuri as his STEM Superhero. And many of the smallest visitors to the SAME booth chose the Hulk. Tony Stark was popular with everyone.
“Awesome Con gave me the chance to share my love of STEM with some fantastic children. But more exciting was the reaction I got when talking to parents and teachers,” Lee Ann Zelesnikar, Central Virginia Post and Regional Vice President, said. “We talked about what their local Posts could do to support their classrooms, and how SAME could benefit their students as they entered college through scholarships, mentorship, and networking. I also had some great conversations with potential partner organizations, and we found some potential new SAME members from the local military bases and industry. The parents came to our booth with their kids for some fun STEM experiments and went away with great information on SAME programs and networking opportunities!”
“Awesome Con gave me the chance to share my love of STEM with some fantastic children. But more exciting was the reaction I got when talking to parents and teachers.” -Lee Ann Zelesnikar, Central Virginia Post and Regional Vice President
Comic conventions are filled with people who dream about the future and are excited to learn that engineers use creativity to solve the world’s problems. SAME wasn’t alone in sharing real-world engineering; the convention hosted an entire Science Fair area that included organizations like NASA, the National Science Foundation, the FBI, and the American Society of Naval Engineers.
“Awesome Con was a unique way for SAME to reach the local community and share our STEM resources,” said Victoria Hernandez with the Washington DC Post. “We met so many great teachers, parents, and future STEM superheroes, and hopefully, passed on our love of STEM to everyone we met. It is always a great day when we can show our future generation just how exciting STEM can be and the difference it can make in the world.”
Hosting Your Own Awesome Booth
Want to host a booth at a comic book or science fiction convention near you? These conventions can be great opportunities to engage a broad audience. At Awesome Con, SAME targeted high school and college students who would be interested in the SAME camps, STEM scholarships, and student memberships, but the conference provided an opportunity to additionally engage teachers, guidance counselors, and parents.
Bringing a booth to life takes enthusiastic volunteers, unique conversation starters, and engaging activities. Start by reaching out to volunteers several months before the event. Comic conventions might appeal to a different subset of your members and can be a great way to get them more engaged in the Post. This is the place to engage Student Members and Young Professionals. Discuss possible activities and attention-grabbing materials. Awesome Con was such a large event that SAME drew on support from the Washington DC, Mid-Maryland, and Central Virginia Posts.
Look for something out of the ordinary to attract visitors and start conversations. One of the Awesome Con volunteers brought an insect collection, which initiated conversations about how environmental and civil engineers protect ecosystems. Does your Post support a Future City, LEGO robotics, or rocketry team? Have the team members volunteer and bring their creations to show off. For example, the Great Basin Post brings a cockpit simulator to the Salt Lake City Comic Convention, as well as robots from the FIRST Robotics team sponsored by the Post. This year will be their third year exhibiting.
For more suggestions, including hands-on activities, join the K-12 STEM Community of Interest and check out the resources on the COI webpage. You can also contact Jeannine Finton (firstname.lastname@example.org), STEM Coordinator, for guidance, or if you’d like your own set of STEM Superhero signs!
Enriching the STEM Pipeline for the Nation
Goal 4 of the 2025 SAME Strategic Plan is to lead efforts to inspire, encourage, and enable youth to pursue STEM careers and help develop the technical capacity that our nation needs to remain globally competitive. SAME is meeting this goal through a number of initiatives and programs such as Post and National Engineering and Construction Camps, student mentoring, K-12 outreach, scholarships and sponsorships, and local and national organization partnerships.
STEM outreach is critical for America’s economic future and security. As SAME moves into its second century, we will continue to leverage our strategic positioning as one Society of vibrant Posts to make an impact at both the national and local levels. To learn more about how SAME is creating STEM opportunities for students and young people, read our 2020 Annual Report or visit one of the Communities of Interest below.