TORONTO -- There may be no better way to learn about science, technology, engineering and math than from an astronaut, a person whose profession and well-being depend entirely on those four disciplines.
That's why Colonel Chris Hadfield was the perfect choice as the keynote speaker at the STEM Experience at Fan Village, an educational field trip opportunity for more than 3,000 students and teachers from across the Greater Toronto Area.
"Great way to spend school, right?" NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said to open the event. "Better than being in the classroom. Hockey is important because it can help you learn STEM and STEM can help you learn hockey."
STEM is an acronym referring to the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space, spoke about a curiosity about space, combined with the studies of science and mathematics paved the way for him.
The journey for him began at around the same age as the children to whom he was speaking on at Scotiabank Fan Village on Thursday. For him, it was a voracious appetite for comic books and science-fiction shows on TV, like Star Trek, that fueled his dreams
"These sort of comic book characters or Captain Kirk of the Enterprise, they were fantastic, but I also knew they weren't real," Hadfield said. "But, at the same time the very first people were starting to fly in space. And I realized, this isn't just fantasy. These are real people. Somehow these people are doing something I am dreaming about. But I didn't know, just like when you want to be in the NHL or whatever you are dreaming about, I didn't know what I was supposed. How to do I actually try to be somebody who can see the world like that."
Hadfield ended up going to four different universities and studying various fields of engineering to prepare for his career. He also learned how to fly, beginning that process when he was 14.
However there were other professions represented Thursday that also draw on the STEM disciplines, a fact that organizers wanted to stress to the students. To be successful in virtually any field, a strong foundation in science, technology, engineering and math is a mandate.
That was the message, as well of the STEM Panel that preceded Hadfield's presentation. Unrestricted free agent NHL player Brad Boyes, EA Sports NHL Producer Sean Ramjagsingh, Vice President, Sponsorship for Rogers TV Nigel Scott and Director of Operations, Air Canada Centre Bryan Leslie all spoke about how different disciplines of science and technology have impacted their lives.
Boyes, who played last season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, talked about how he used a wooden stick for much of his career and said he was one of the last players in the NHL to switch to a composite stick.
"Guys now haven't even heard of wood blades or wood sticks," Boyes said. "The technology has changed so much. It's so much faster, so much quicker, and so much lighter and guys are able to adapt to it and are using it a young age now. The game is just getting so much better through science and technology."