Whether the focus is on traditional STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—or the newer STEAM (A is for arts), learning in these fields is vital for many current jobs and more that haven’t been created yet. The good news is that the U.S. News/Raytheon STEM Index shows student interest in such fields has increased since 2000. The bad news is that women and minorities continue to be underrepresented. However, students themselves might be the key to a different type of solution.
In Arizona, chief science officers in middle and high schools represent a new approach by putting young people at the center of science promotion and experience. These students, who are elected by their peers to be their school’s CSOs, are accepting the challenge of raising awareness, making science achievement a “must have” for everyone, and advocating for STEM learning with state and local policy makers as well as with other students.
More than 70 schools have chosen to help pilot this voluntary program developed by the Arizona SciTech Festival. Just in its fourth year, the Arizona SciTech Festival, which had nearly 380,000 people attend at least one or more of some 1000 events in 2015, is led by Flinn-Brown Fellow Jeremy Babendure. Other Flinn-Brown Fellows, including Mignonne Hollis (Sierra Vista), Michelle Hess (Buckeye), Christian Price (Maricopa), Joanne Osborne (Goodyear), and Diane Joens (Cottonwood), have worked with Jeremy to host a variety of AZ SciTech Festival events in their communities. Numerous sponsors, including the Arizona Commerce Authority, make the SciTech festival a reality.
CSOs act as their schools’ “voice” for science and identify opportunities such as speakers, field trips, and projects that reflect the interests of their peers. Supported by a community mentor (aka a SciTech Jedi), they also serve as the school’s science ambassador and point of contact for local scientists and STEM and community organizations that want to work with students. They will promote science learning at such bodies as city councils, school boards, and chambers of commerce.
The CSO effort also aims to increase students’ civic-leadership skills. Development begins with an intensive Leadership Institute. The inaugural effort took place recently at Tonto Creek Camp outside Payson. The more than 80 students participating developed ideas for regional projects, worked with a SciTech Jedi on their ideas, learned to network, and wrote several blog posts for publication. Professionals from Intel, State Farm, Honeywell, TGen, University of Arizona, State Farm, Arizona State University, ASU, and Freeport McMoRan, to name just a few, participated in the camp to help support the CSOs.
The CSO idea has been refined over time and is now ready to expand. If you would like to help with this unique effort, contact Jeremyb@azcommerce.com.