Nearly 400 students saw a robot that knew to stop work when people got too close, toured one of the county’s biggest employers and even met their potential future boss at an event aimed at getting middle-schoolers interested in science- and math-based careers.

For the second consecutive year, Endress+Hauser hosted an event to get local students interested in careers in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

This year, the event nearly tripled in size, with about 900 people attending, including students, teachers, parents and central Indiana employers, said Crystal Hunt, public relations manager at Endress+Hauser.

About 25 companies, colleges and organizations set up booths to talk about the need for people in STEM-based careers. Part of the goal of the annual event is to show students the kind of jobs available in STEM-based fields, including at companies in Johnson County, and give employers a chance to begin recruiting talent early.

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One of Endress+Hauser’s customers, Frakes Engineering, was not a part of the event last year; but when officials learned how many students would be there, they knew they had to come, general manager Cliff Campbell said. He and his team brought a robot with them that was motion-activated. If someone walked too close to the robot, it would automatically stop working. Once the person stepped back, the robot knew how to resume its job, showing it’s smart enough to know to stop work, ensuring employee safety, he said.

“This is kind of a no-brainer,” Campbell said. “Getting kids interested in what we do in middle school is not too far of a reach.”

Having access to this many students interested in STEM-based careers allows Campbell to try to recruit students to work for him before they even enter high school. He said he was impressed by how smart the students were at the forum.

“I’ve already given out a couple of business cards and said, ‘When you get to college, call me,’” Campbell said.

“We’re pulling those kind of kids into our facility, giving them tours, sponsoring teams; and as soon as they head into college, we’re looking for interns. It’s a really tough market, and when you find people who are excited about it, those are the ones you want because they’re going to find the solutions.”

Local schools have begun focusing more on STEM-based education in recent years, including robotics teams, science clubs and computer-based curriculum.

Eighth-grader Ayudhvir Bajwa, who joined the robotics team at Center Grove Middle School Central this year, is interested in engineering and robotics but doesn’t know what career he’ll go into. He wanted to come to the forum to learn more about future careers, and he brought his sister and mother along.

“I just want to know how robots work in modern (companies),” Ayudhvir said. “It tells me more of other options that I can grow up to be.”

His sister, Akshpreet Bajwa, who is a freshman in college, got a job offer while she was there.

Schools associated with Central Nine Career Center were told to invite any students they wanted, especially those interested in robotics, science or engineering, said Brandyn Ferguson, vice president of human resources for Endress+Hauser.

The company was hoping for 300 middle school-aged students, and about 430 students registered, though less than 400 attended. In future years, Endress+Hauser might cap registration at a few hundred students or make the community forum an invitation-only event, depending on attendance at this year’s event, Ferguson said.

Two teachers approached Clark-Pleasant Middle School student Jack Million about attending the event because they knew he had a passion for engineering, digital communications teacher Kara Heichelbech said.

“When I was young, I would take apart remotes and take apart motherboards and stuff,” Jack said.

Jack wants to go into a career in engineering or game design but hasn’t made up his mind yet. His mother, Therese Harmon, said she noticed his curiosity in how things work as young as kindergarten.

“He’s always shown an interest in the inner workings of things,” Harmon said.

“We would always ask him ‘What if?’ ‘How?’ and those types of questions.”