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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – The annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium always brings interesting exhibits and experts to Huntsville but this year also brought an opportunity for parents.

For the 2014 event, organizers wanted to expand their focus on the next generation of innovators in science, technology, engineering and math. So, a STEM education forum was offered Wednesday at the Von Braun Center. The forum offered educators and parents guidance on how to help interested children prepare for these highly-competitive jobs.

Judy D’Amico with Project Lead the Way was the speaker for the event. Earlier in the week, Project Lead the Way announced a partnership with Huntsville City Schools to introduce its curriculum to every grade-level student in the system.  Previously, only middle and high-school students were instructed in the specially-designed courses.

D’Amico says, “high school in many cases is just too late…it needs to come earlier, and we need to get them excited and really ready to engage in STEM.” However, parents need not be experts in the fields to foster an interest in their children. According to D’Amico, one of the most important things is to show enthusiasm and ask lots of questions about what they’re doing in school. As she points out, teaching someone what you know is one of the best ways to solidify what you’ve learned.

One forum attendee who did pursue a career in STEM was Lisa Brunegraffe. She received a degree in mechanical engineering and has worked with many children over the years in STEM projects. She says she learned early that hands-on projects were the best way to teach children difficult concepts, adding, “it gets kids excited…It keeps them engaged.”

Brunegraffe also encourages parents not to be deterred by the cost associated with some extra-curricular STEM activities and camps. Most, as she points out, offer scholarships or reduced fees to families for whom cost is prohibitive.

Even if a child chooses not to pursue a career in STEM, educators and experts agree lessons learned in these courses and projects will still be beneficial, as the world becomes an even smaller place and technology becomes an even bigger presence in our everyday lives.