Community forum pivots to virtual event, contests

Every year during the Community Career+Education Forum, students and their parents spend a day immersed in science, technology, engineering and math. 

They talk with manufacturers about possible career paths, and take part in activities that involve coding, working with robotics or using 3D modeling. 

Innovative demonstrations allow them to see STEM working in real life.

All of that will again be possible during Endress+Hauser’s annual showcase. The only differences will be the way everyone engages.

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The Community Career+Education Forum Nov. 5 transitioned to a virtual event in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Still, organizers have dedicated months of planning to ensuring local students and their families receive the best in STEM education and career possibilities.

A virtual night of learning has been augmented with unique education kits distributed to local schools, opportunities to try 3D modeling and the chance to become an online star by creating a science, technology, engineering or math-based video.

For hosts Endress+Hauser, it was vitally important to still get young people excited about STEM and its potential, even during such an unusual year.

"It’s been a challenge we wanted to overcome, because we know how important the event is to the community. We wanted to create as close to the experience as possible to students, to teachers, to parents, to community partners," said Nicole Otte, director of workforce development at Endress+Hauser.

The Community Career+Education Forum was founded in 2014 as a way to help schools, students and their families learn what skills employers are looking for in their workers, as well as see the diverse types of careers available in advanced manufacturing.

For Endress+Hauser, preparing that next generation of workers for STEM jobs is critical. The company makes instruments to measure flow, level, pressure and temperature for automated production lines.

Endress+Hauser partnered with Central Nine Career Center and Aspire Johnson County to create the career forum, which has grown into a key way to foster interest in science and technology throughout the county.

Each year, the event draws close to 1,000 students and parents to the company’s headquarters in Greenwood. They go from booth to booth speaking with dozens of local manufacturers offering information and demonstrations of how science plays into their business. The forum will also feature information from all types of businesses who rely on workers with technical skills, colleges that offer degrees in related subjects, and agencies such as local libraries that provide STEM programs.

Planning for the 2020 event started in February, with the expectation to host the forum in late September. But the pandemic forced those plans to halt.

"We started having those conversations in March and April — what are we going to do? What are our options? Do we go virtual or live, and how do we make that decision?" Otte said.

Organizers reached out to local partners, both in education and manufacturing, to gauge their response. They were in favor of keeping the forum as a live event, so it was postponed to its current date of Nov. 5. But as COVID-19 cases spiked over the summer, it reached a point when those involved knew they had to transition to a virtual event.

But those planning the event wanted to also include features that were off the computer — out of the virtual realm entirely, Otte said.

"We knew students were already going to be experiencing virtual learning. And we know that students likely didn’t want to engage in more virtual experiences, after they’ve already spent the day doing it," she said. "We wanted it to be as hands-on as possible, to engage with schools and teachers as early as possible before the event."

Endress+Hauser organizers put together resources for local middle schools to help teachers in the classroom. Schools are able to sign up for a free account on LearningBlade, an online tool featuring lessons, projects and activities introducing students to STEM fields.

Classroom kits were assembled and will be distributed to the schools to help visualize disease spread and transmission using flashlights, glowing "germs" and other tools.

Endress+Hauser will also be awarding up to $10,000 in STEM grants to local teachers in all grades, as they have in past years, to help fund innovative classroom projects, said Juliana Cleveland, the company’s event planner.

"We wanted to make sure that in addition to the live, virtual event, we were also providing resources and educational materials to help foster STEM education in the classroom even while we’re going through this crazy time we’re going through," she said.

In addition, organizers put together contests to appeal to students’ interests in STEM. Using a free program called Tinkercard, or any other modeling program, students can create a 3D model of anything they’d like.

"We’ll upload all of those models into a ‘Minecraft’ world, and students can then go in there and explore everyone’s 3D designs," Otte said.

A second contest asks participants to create a STEM-related video — showing an experiment or lab demonstration, giving a history of their favorite invention, exploring what they think the future of technology looks like or showing how math impacts their favorite activities.

The first 50 submissions in each contest will receive a Community Career+Education Forum t-shirt, and the winners from each contest will get a $100 Amazon gift card.

All of that leads to the live virtual event Nov. 5. The forum will feature a virtual marketplace during the school day, where participants can stop at an Endress+Hauser "booth" on their computer to take part in activities about coding, an engineer-themed quiz game, and the PTU Challenge, typically one of the most popular activities during the forum. 

Partners — industry leaders such as B2S Labs, Cummins and NSK; educators at Franklin College, University of Indianapolis and Purdue University; and community libraries — will offer "booths" where they can learn more about STEM.

"It’s exploratory. They get to navigate through the lobby and through the exhibit halls, they get to go into booths and interact with pre-placed content like photos or videos, or to live-chat with industry partners," Cleveland said.

The evening session of the forum will feature a STEM showcase. Contest and grant winners will be announced and innovative teaching practices will be highlighted, among other presentations. 

"We’re really excited for the opportunity to do something that’s a little bit more innovative," Cleveland said. "We had some conversations with our industry partners when we were weighing the decision, and they were fully supportive of whatever decision we made. They just really wanted this event to happen."

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Community Career+Education Forum

What: A virtual gathering for seventh, eighth and ninth grade students and families to learn more about STEM, manufacturing and industry, higher education and career training. Due to the ongoing pandemic, activities and engagement has been planned for the next months, to go along with the virtual forum.

Middle school teaching/learning resources

Schools have been given access to LearningBlade, an online tool promoting STEM lessons and activities. Classrooms kits allowing schools to teach about coronavirus and disease spread have been assembled and will be distributed.


STEM Studios video contest: Students can choose from a list of prompts to make a video focused on a different area of STEM. Videos need to be three to five minutes long, and must be submitted by Oct. 9.

3D Modeling contest: Create any design you want to using free modeling program Tinkercard, and the submissions will be uploaded into a "Minecraft" world for people to explore.

Prizes: The first 50 submissions in each contest receive a free Community Career+Education Forum t-shirt. Selected winners receive a $100 Amazon gift card

How to enter: Submissions must be received by Oct. 9. Submit at

Virtual forum

When: Nov. 5

1-4 p.m. — Virtual marketplace and field trip, with interaction with Endress+Hauser plus industry, college and community partners

5:30-8:30 p.m. — STEM Showcase, with winners of contests announce and a spotlight on local teachers’ best STEM practices.

How to sign up: Register before Oct. 30 at

For more information: Contact [email protected]