Letter from the Field: Important Interaction at the USA Science & Engineering Festival

Friday, May 9, 2014

AME received this email from a proud father, thanking the association and its members for their help. What follows is an edited version of that email.

On Saturday, April 26, my sons and I made the trek to Washington, DC, to see the USA Science & Engineering Festival.

For us, it was a standard trip that we have made many times from the outer suburbs in Virginia. The three boys, aged 10, 12 and 15, are all familiar with the process and expectations. They argued about what they wanted to see: robotics, simulators, science experiments and the like.

They discussed seeing Mike Rowe from Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”; Grammy Award-winning They Might Be Giants; Bill Nye, the Science Guy; Dr. Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, best-selling author and populizer of science; Apollo Robbins from TV’s “Mind Games”; and John Scieszka … I know, I didn’t know the last one either. Scieszka is the author who finished Dr. Seuss’s last book and wrote “The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales.”

We arrived early and waded through the crowds to have a look at the convention center floor to figure out which way we were going to go and what we needed to see first. My oldest son spied Think Geek, Lockheed Martin and lots of robotics. The middle one wanted to see the colleges since they do the fun/extreme experiments like dragon-breathing and shooting fire. The youngest looked on seemingly overwhelmed by the sheer size, scope and complexity of the entire event.

We stood at the stairs in Hall A over the medical section and watched as the vendor and volunteers hurried to get to their places before the event was opened to the general public.

Once we were let in, we skipped over most of the medical section and headed over to the Career Pavilion, figuring we’d make a quick pass before heading to the Robotfest, National Science Foundation and NASA. As I blazed a trail to outdistance us from the crowd and find something interesting to look at, I took the outside path along the wall and headed quickly down the row toward Career Pavilion.

My wife stopped my forward progress when our youngest saw something that made his heart leap. He is a Lego fanatic. He builds everything from the pre-made kits, whatever project comes to mind. For Easter, he built a family house complete with all of us and an Easter egg hunt. He does this for every occasion. He loves Legos. What caught his eye was Legos at some obscure booth that I had no interest in. I had dismissed that booth in favor of covering some ground and finding something that I thought would capture their attention and inspire them.

We were at the festival from 8 a.m. to almost 5 p.m., and this booth was the first booth of the day. Also consider that we saw most of the list that I mentioned at the beginning … Mike Rowe, They Might Be Giants, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and Michio Kaku, not to mention thousands of displays, simulators, demonstrators and science experiments.

Of all of these, one made it into the boys’ top three: the Cube Robots that were pointed out to us by Mick Wilz. 

I can’t remember the name of the people at your booth and had to look them up in the brochures and business cards that they provided. We couldn’t go back for the building seminar that I think that Nancy was trying to get us to sign up for. I know that they mentioned a scholarship and asked if we would mind posing for some pictures, but for the most part it barely registered on my interest-o-meter, I know it’s not a thing but you get it.

Now here’s the reason I am sending you an email… Mick Wilz. The interest in Legos, the passion he conveyed, the connection he made and the time that he spent with us, especially my 10-year-old, made a huge impact. I have to add him to the list of “Superstars,” and it is one of my little guy’s favorites from the festival.

I am an engineer but my kids have their own interests. Generally they are interested in science, technology and engineering, but mostly because of video games. So, huh … who’d have thought a group I have never heard of (AME) in a part of the festival that I was going to breeze through (Career Pavilion) at a booth that I had dismissed could be a favorite, and end up a second favorite after Cube Robots. Please thank Mick Wilz of Sur-Seal, and let him know that he made at least one lasting impression, scratch that, two lasting impressions.      

- James Meade