TechFest beefs up offerings while expanding its reach

February 25th, 2014

News Coverage:

TechFest beefs up offerings while expanding its reach

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014 11:00 pm

By Doug LeDuc

Organizers have kept all the fun in TechFest but have pumped up the educational value of its contests and breakout sessions to more than double school participation in the annual event this year.

On March 14, about 400 students will converge on the Regional Public Safety Academy: Ivy Tech South Campus to compete on behalf of 50 northeast Indiana schools. The day will filled with breakout sessions to expand their minds and networking opportunities where they can make connections with tech employers in the region.

“We’re doubling the number of kids and tripling the number of schools and we’re going to 34 exhibits from about 20,” said Doug Arthur, managing director of community engagement for Tier1 Performance Solutions, which was hired to upgrade and expand TechFest.

“It’s all about more employers, more high schools and more students, so it is a regional asset and not just a Fort Wayne asset,” he said. “I went down last Tuesday and presented TechFest to Adams Central High School.”

Allen County, the city of Fort Wayne and its information-technology management firm, Atos, and tech employers including major defense electronics companies continue to sponsor TechFest. They work with organizations such as Greater Fort Wayne Inc. and Ivy Tech Community College Northeast on the Northeast Indiana Tech Coalition, which plans the event.

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership will have an exhibit at the event where students will be able to learn about regional economic-development work with tech employers and a Millennial 2020 program to engage area residents ages 15-25 in its visioning process, Vision 2020.

The process was designed to transform northeast Indiana by improving its talent, entrepreneurship, infrastructure, business climate and quality of life.

Part of improving talent involves work to alleviate a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills in the region’s work force, which can help retain some of its better-paying, tech-related employers.

TechFest is designed to generate enthusiasm for STEM-related careers and for the kind of education in the region that could lead to those careers.

“Every city in the U.S. has one primary measure of success — can they attract new businesses and keep the ones they’ve got?” Arthur said. “And the one factor they’re all struggling with is work force (skills). Talent is the Achilles heel. What you can’t do on a dime is suddenly grow employer-ready talent.”

Arthur was working on that challenge for Ohio when he co-founded the InterAlliance of Greater Cincinnati to start a Tech Olympics Expo. The expo was designed to connect high school students in that region with employers there requiring STEM skills, as well as STEM-related regional educational opportunities.

Patterned after the Tech Olympics Expo, the first local TechFest in 2011 filled a Saturday with computer and video-game tournaments, an iPod “battle of the bands” and speed-texting and photo editing competitions, as well as a real-world problem solving exercise.

Guest speakers included a robotics engineer from Detroit, a forensic scientist with the Indiana State Police who worked at an Indianapolis crime lab, and Fort Wayne native Zach Klein, who helped found, Busted Tees and Vimeo.

This year’s event will continue to feature inspiring, high-energy speakers. For example, Erin Albert, a Butler University professor with degrees in pharmacy, business and law who has been a successful writer and entrepreneur, will deliver a “Live Your Dream” keynote speech.

In breakout sessions for young women, she will tell them STEM employment presents no glass ceiling they can’t crash through. Every student at the event needs to hear “about finding their dream in technology,” Arthur said. “They need to know that’s a ticket to a wonderful career.”

Other breakout sessions will cover topics including business startup basics and the protection of intellectual property. And a Northeast Indiana Innovation Center exhibit at the event will explain its student venture program, which assists area college and high-school students with the development of technology businesses.

The TechFest competition among schools has been revamped so it is entirely STEM-related and the video gaming will take place in the lounge.

The changes made it possible to hold TechFest on a Friday so that students and the teachers who accompany them do not have to give up a Saturday for the event, which schools will handle as an educational field trip.

Increasing the STEM content “helped because the teachers could get behind what you’re doing with the kids and they could say, ‘It’s a day to learn and not just a day to play,’” Arthur said. “The message to the kids is, ‘Come have the time of your life.’”