Gov. Janet Napolitano has announced that her office, with an array of public and private partners, is forming a new organization to strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education in Arizona. Better STEM education is widely recognized as fundamental to establishing a globally competitive bioscience sector.
The new Arizona STEM Education Center, which will be housed in downtown Phoenix with Science Foundation Arizona, will seek to boost recruitment, training, and retention of STEM teachers; improve STEM skills among students from preschool through high school, and increase the share of students who pursue degrees in STEM disciplines at the college level.
“The new education center will help make certain that Arizona cultivates the skills needed to thrive in today’s global marketplace,” Gov. Napolitano said. “Increasing science, technology, engineering, and math education is critical to our students’ and state’s future.”
Joining the governor’s office in collaborating on the project are the governor’s P-20 Council, the Arizona State Board of Education, tribal communities, Arizona universities, community colleges, and business and philanthropic initiatives. The center will be directed by Darcy Renfro, who has most recently served as the governor’s policy adviser for higher education, innovation, and the economy.
“I intend for the STEM Center to be an honest broker and consensus-builder as well as an advocate for issues related to STEM education among all relevant stakeholder groups,” Renfro said. “In addition, I hope the Center eventually will become a grant-making institution that can support financially good ideas to increase student participation and teacher production and degrees in STEM disciplines.”
Renfro added that because the Center already has funding for its first three years of operation, “additional money raised will go toward specific programs to further this agenda.”
Funding for the first three years is coming from the Salt River-Pima Maricopa Indian Community, which has committed $100,000, and Phoenix-based Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc., the world’s largest publicly traded copper company, which is donating $1.5 million.
“What we really need are scientists and engineers and geologists, and that’s why we’re happy to support this program,” said Richard C. Adkerson, president and CEO of Freeport-McMoRan, in the Arizona Republic.
Renfro said that she plans to spend the first few months in her new role studying existing programs to identify best practices and key gaps. One of her first tasks will be convening an advisory council, to be announced next month, that will finalize the Center’s specific goals.
The broad aims for the Center already announced by the governor are closely aligned with one of the four main strategies of Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap: “encourage the state’s citizens to become a more informed citizenry in the biosciences and encourage young people to explore and pursue scientific and technical careers.”
Over the past year, bioscience advocates have achieved notable progress on that strategy, with milestones that include, in addition to the STEM Center’s creation:
- approval of more-stringent high-school-graduation requirements in STEM disciplines;
- introduction of a new loan-forgiveness program for college students who become STEM teachers;
- establishment of NAUTeach, a new program at Northern Arizona University, funded by the National Math and Science Initiative and the Helios Education Foundation, which aims to double the number of new math and science teachers NAU graduates each year;
- significant expansion of the Helios Scholars Program at the Translational Genomics Research Institute;
- a record number of STEM high-school teachers participating in university- and research-institution-sponsored bioscience summer institutes;
- and participation of over 100 STEM teachers at the Arizona Bioscience Education Pipeline Summit.
The center also bears the imprint of Gov. Napolitano’s Innovation America initiative, begun last year during her tenure as head of the National Governors Association. The Innovation America initiative called for a nationwide campaign to increase awareness about the importance of innovation in sustaining U.S. economic competitiveness on the global stage, and for vigorous state-level efforts to improve STEM education.
For more information:
“Governor, coalition push science-education center,” Arizona Republic, 07/16/2008
Office of the Governor news release, 07/15/2008