The 13th annual STEAM Expo was hosted at Aubrey Rogers High School and took place on Jan. 27. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art, and math. The STEAM Expo featured activities integrating all those subjects. The event started with a presentation about sharks by keynote speaker, Emmy Award-winning cinematographer Andy Brandy Casagrande IV.

Andy goes down below to learn about sharks, whereas most people run from sharks keep a safe distance, and he gets right up into their face,” Chief Communication Officer Chad Oliver said.

Casagrande spent every summer growing up in Naples at the beach. He always loved learning about sharks. He studied marine biology in college. He worked at a software company in Silicon Valley as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer for two years before deciding to pursue what he loved.

“I left the security of a decent paying job, a really good paying job to work for free for a great white shark research team, but it completely changed my life,” Casagrande said.

The presentation was about the different locations Casagrande has filmed in, his equipment and the scientific research he’s helped collect.

“I like interacting with these predators. It’s a little scary sometimes, but it’s all in your head,” Casagrande said. “They’re very skittish. They’re very cautious. Sharks know that humans can often be very dangerous, so they do their best to avoid humans.”

On the screen, Casagrande presented examples of his footage from different dives with sharks.

“But what I’m trying to inspire people to realize is that sharks are really actually important for our environment. They’re not our enemies,” Casagrande said.

He explained some common misconceptions people have about sharks. 

“It’s such a privilege to share the same liquid space with a creature that the majority of the world thinks wants to rip your head off and eat you alive. It’s just not true,” Casagrande said. “Sharks again, they’re not malicious. They’re beautiful, amazing, professional predators.”

Casagrande talked about the equipment, such as the cameras, that he uses out in the ocean, some of which he made himself.

“And it’s the perfect example of steam. We’re looking at science right here: the behavior of the sharks. Technology: the camera. Engineering: the camera housings and all these rigs that I built. Art: in cinematography. If it doesn’t look beautiful, people aren’t really going to be that interested. And then math, how else do you count saving all the money you make saving the world?” Casagrande said.

Casagrande went on to explain the role of sharks in marine ecosystems.

“While sharks, although they’re a bit scary, they are the guardians of the oceans,” Casagrande said. “They keep a balance; they maintain the health of the oceans.”

After the presentation, hundreds of people were involved in the activities in the STEAM Village Hands-On Booths. NHS physics teacher Corey Stewart was running a booth on the solar eclipse and handing out eclipse glasses.

“Today we’re raising awareness for the total eclipse that’s occurring April 8, 2024. In Naples, we’ll be able to see about 50% of the sun,” Stewart said “I just want to make sure that students are safely watching the sun during the eclipse.” 

The gym was full of kids from elementary, middle and high school, along with their families, viewing and participating in all the different booths.

“I’m amazed at the amount of people that are here. I think a lot of people are excited about science and engineering and arts and math,” Stewart said.

Volunteers set up and managed STEAM Village. Schools such as Lorenzo Walker Technical College and FGCU had booths there.

“My favorite part is the parents that are learning with their children. I watched a dad and his daughter looking through a microscope,” Collier County Superintendent Dr. Leslie Ricciardelli said. “The daughter did it first and then the dad did it, and I mean really, parents might read to their children and parents might watch some documentaries with their children, but the parents are in hands-on activities right here with their children.”

At one of the booths, Casagrande gave autographs, provided a photo opportunity, and answered questions. Casagrande also encouraged students to pursue their interests because they could lead to future opportunities.

“Don’t be discouraged. There’s always a way and it doesn’t have to be the direct path. It can be like a crazy Tetris puzzle,” Casagrande said. “Learn as much as possible. Interact with the experts. Use the internet to learn as much as you can. Make sure you know, filter through all the misinformation, but yeah, just get amongst it.”