Nifty Fifty Stem Program

Nifty Fifty Stem Program


What is the Nifty Fifty Program?

Did you always dream you would work for NASA? What type of fieldwork a Climatologist does? Do you travel all over the world? What it’s like to work at Google? These are some of the questions students can ask real life scientists and engineers as part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s Nifty Fifty Program (times 4). The Nifty Fifty Program is a unique curriculum that allows students to interact with STEM professionals that travel to schools across the D.C. Metro area. The program features some of the most inspiring names in STEM discussing the latest in green technology, engineering, human health and medicine, astronomy and space exploration, nanotechnology, computer science, and more.

InfoComm International, the organization that sponsors the program, is a non-profit trade organization for Audio Visual professionals. “Audio Visual is a very specific discipline, and a lot of people in the industry never studied A/V in school. It’s just not usually a topic taught at university or high schools. A lot of people fall into it because they either love music or they volunteered in their high school working on A/V etc,” said Betsy Jaffe, InfoComm International Senior Vice President of Member Services. “The number one obstacle to growth in the field is a lack of qualified personnel. So, we really want to spread the word about how great the industry is, and how you can have a really great career in it even if you’re not college bound.

The partnership with the Nifty Fifty Program is a win-win-win. InfoComm is able to share the perhaps unexpected benefits of entering the A/V field. The students learn about exciting for careers in STEM. The speakers are energized and inspired by the students. Just take a look at their perspectives on the program!

Kitt Vanderwater, Speaker, Google Software Engineer:

“…I admit, I was a little bit nervous beforehand because I wasn’t sure how well I’d relate to middle school students … I really was blown away at how amazing they were. They laughed at all the right places, had fun and interesting questions, and were great to talk to over lunch.”

Zulma Whiteford, STEM Coordinator atSt. Louis School:

“The program has offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for my students and inspired them to pursue their passions… I sincerely believe the program is helping lead students into future careers in STEM. It was absolutely heartwarming to see some of my more reserved students come to life and engage [Kitt Vanderwater] in a meaningful conversation.”

Tyler DeWitt, Speaker, Ph.D. student in Microbiology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Science Communications Expert:

“I bring colorful props, tons of plush microbes, jars labeled “bacteria pee,” and wrap it all up in a compelling story with lots of humor. It’s awesome to see the kids laughing and smiling while learning about science. So many times when students ask questions, I think, Wow, that’s such a thoughtful question. And you’re how old?!

Dr. Kim Cobb, Speaker, Geochemist and Climatologist:

“Students are sophisticated consumers, and at every Nifty Fifty event I’ve done, I’ve had a question from them that I’ve never had before. They keep me on my toes! And they demonstrate a real hunger for exchanges with real scientists.”

John Brophy, Speaker, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mechanical Engineer:

“I was very impressed at the number and quality of the questions asked by the students. Some questions showed a surprisingly deep understanding of the subject matter (space propulsion), and at one point I had to stop and ask them, ‘Are you sure you don’t already work for NASA?’”

Mary Hartman, STEM Department Chairperson:

“It is part of our mission to expose students to the opportunities in STEM-related careers that are connected to space investigations and research…We are considering creating a middle school STEM booth at the US Science & Engineering Festival in April 2016 based upon some of the projects they may undertake this fall and winter…We are excited to see where this student generated and developed endeavor will take us”.

Learn more about the Nifty Fifty Program by visiting the USA Science & Engineering Festival’s website at

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