Award winning STEMFest returns after pandemic restrictions

By Tia Lush

On Sunday 2nd October 2022, the bunting was cut and thousands poured onto Durham Street in Tauranga’s CBD for a street party featuring some science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. This moment has been nearly three years in the making.

After the first STEMFest in 2019, it was a natural assumption that the 2020 event would follow the following year, but then COVID-19 came and the world changed.

Like so many other small not-for-profit event organisations we had to quickly adapt and think about how we could continue to deliver on our kaupapa (purpose), while navigating the constant changing landscape of restrictions and keeping our community safe. During those COVID-19 years we developed and delivered smaller activations but our heart was always set on STEMFest and we were yearning for the day we could restart our planning.

We started work on STEMFest 2022 in earnest back in March 2022, engaging with our amazingly supportive sponsors and partners early. The general consensus was that we work towards a delivery of the event in October 2022 when though at the time Aotearoa was still under the Traffic Lights Protection Framework setting – Orange.

Our tenacity paid off and by September 2022 all government restrictions were scrapped which paved the way for a large scale STEMFest.

The next challenge for our team was the one thing we couldn’t control or influence — the New Zealand weather! The days leading up to STEMFest had even the most stoic of Board of Trustees concerned, as the weather forecast was looking grim for the day of the event. We could plan for most scenarios, but heavy rain was not going to be a pleasant experience. We had multiple weather apps and websites loaded and we decided to go with the one with the best forecast. While we debated whether or not we proceeded (and we had many discussions) one of our Board Trustees Steven asked something that made a lot of sense: “what’s worse, STEMFest in the rain or no STEMFest?”. It was a no-brainer.

Sunday 5am started off with a light drizzle and then miraculously by opening time the clouds cleared as the crowds gathered at Elizabeth and Spring St entrances waiting to get onto the site.

The day was truly amazing, so many happy smiling faces, leaping from one interactive activity to another with the sun shining intermittently. It was so emotional for everyone who had invested so much time to get us to where we were and to have STEMFest actually happen after so many stop-starts. The feedback so far has been so overwhelmingly positive, while there are things we can improve (which we will work on), we are so delighted with how well the day went.

There are so many friends and supporters to thank and so many people who have contributed to helping to make STEMFest happen. I’ve always said that STEMFest is driven by the community, for the community and powered by people and this remains the absolute truth. Anyone can organise an event, but what’s makes STEMFest special is the heart and passion that each Board Trustee, team member, volunteer, sponsor, funder, exhibitor, and supplier pours into making it the best experience it can be.

We have to say thank you to the STEM Wana team; Soraya for laying the foundations over the last two years, Rachael for her people wrangling and all the behind the scenes work, Murray for stepping in at the very last minute as event manager to make sure all the things that needed doing got done. What a dream team!

I’m incredibly proud of what our organisation has achieved and remain blown away by the generosity shown to support us in our work and excited for what the next chapter brings.

Here are some behind the scenes photos. Click here to see the official photos for STEMFest 2022.