“You can’t get a cup of coffee in Flagstaff without bumping into a scientist,” joked Ira Flatow, National Public Radio Science Friday host broadcasting from the 2011 Flagstaff Festival of Science. Indeed, Flagstaff is full of scientists, techies, engineers and mathematicians. But how to tap this brainpower to support local schools where students often turn away from the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) career path?
Enter Flagstaff STEM Consortium, a collective of more than 80 groups and individuals that creates meaningful partnerships between STEM businesses, organizations and local schools.
Brought forth and lead by Flagstaff Forty, Flagstaff STEM City Initiative is gaining momentum as a change force in Northern Arizona. Even a highway sign touts “America’s First STEM Community” at the outskirts of Flagstaff.
“Flagstaff STEM City came out of Flagstaff Forty about a year ago when working to find how the business community can have a big impact on the schools,” explained David Engelthaler, vice chair of Flagstaff Forty and Flagstaff STEM City instigator. The group met with school administrators and learned that positive outcomes result when teachers provide hands-on STEM experiences for their students. With so many STEM resources already in the Flagstaff area, the group saw the opportunity to bring educators and resources together.
“We have a number of great bioscience institutions for sure, but we also have a number of other science and tech entities in town from the private sector all the way to the government sector,” Engelthaler said. “We also have great schools and really fantastic educators that strive to give those STEM related opportunities to their students to really improve their education. So what we are trying to do is really pull those two things together – those institutions and the schools – to really make sure that we have educational excellence here in Flagstaff.”
The large consortium is made up of business leaders and economic development professionals, teachers and educators. By helping schools incorporate quality STEM education across the K-Career curriculum, STEM-related businesses are supported in their continued expansion and attraction of new leaders, partners and staff. As STEM-related businesses expand and create new jobs, young workers can find employment in their hometown and stop the “brain drain” that occurs when the educated leave for career advancement elsewhere.
Flagstaff Forty collaborated with the Flagstaff Festival of Science to show kids of all ages how exciting science and technology can be. At the festival last September, the mayor read the Flagstaff STEM City proclamation and STEM educator and student of the year awards were presented. In October, the Flagstaff City Council passed the resolution declaring Flagstaff to be a STEM community, a first in the nation.
“Though Flagstaff is a small town, we have a large science base with a ton of people that want to share their knowledge,” said Jim Snook, president of Flagstaff Festival of Science. Flagstaff Festival of Science partners with those people to provide free activities for 10,000 to 20,000 adults and children during Science Week that takes place every fall. “Everywhere we look, we’re at the cutting edge with STEM,” said Snook of the mountain town.
“No one else is doing this to coordinate at a community-wide level,” said Engelthaler, who is also the director at TGen North, a Flagstaff translational genomics research organization. “Flagstaff Festival of Science as the longest running science fair in the U.S. is one of the major reasons that we are clearly a STEM city.”
“We hope to engage all Flagstaff businesses – from small companies to large – to develop a partnership with a local school or a specific teacher or class,” said Mindy Bell, STEM Connection coordinator. “The partnerships can take many forms, from being a guest speaker on a germane topic, to helping a class with a project that is related to your profession, to adopting a classroom and visiting several times during the year to interact with the students as a STEM professional.”
“Older students could serve as interns at your business, or you could act as a mentor to just one or a few students in a class. The form of the partnership will depend on the interests of the business, the grade level of the students, and the curricular needs of the teacher. It is my job to help make the best connections for you, and there are many possibilities,” said Bell, a former high school science teacher, most recently at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy. Interested business people should contact Bell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“A key goal from the connections is to increase our local STEM-educated workforce, so Flagstaff’s STEM-related businesses, non-profits, government agencies and higher education institutions can find keenly interested and educated personnel for their business or institution,” added Bell, explaining how lifting STEM literacy for our students is good for the whole community.
Flagstaff Festival of Science – www.scifest.org
Flagstaff STEM City – http://flagstaffstemcity.com