My name is Larrea Cottingham and I am the Climate and Energy VISTA at the City of Flagstaff through the Flagstaff STEM Education Project. In my role, I am working to expand the Sustainability Section’s outreach around climate and energy, both in schools and the community. I am currently working to develop a climate leadership academy for local high school students that will give students an opportunity to become more climate literate, and engage in place-based climate action and outreach at home, school and in their community. I am excited to work with community members and local organizations to create ambitious educational opportunities around climate and the environment for everyone in the Flagstaff community.
I moved to Flagstaff in 2014 to attend Northern Arizona University where I received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Master of Arts in Teaching Science. Throughout college I played violin and viola in the NAU Symphony and Chamber Orchestra, and I still often play for the Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra. I am passionate about ecological conservation and outdoor education, and I am inspired to create a career that combines my love of exploring wild places and desire to protect them. I love to spend as much time outside as possible, so I have worked in wildlife biology and as an instructor at the Colorado Outward Bound School. I am always eager to plan the next big adventure, but in the meantime, I can be found exploring the mountains, rivers, and canyons.
My name is Nick Siskonen and I've lived in Flagstaff for over ten years. I originally moved to Sedona with my family in 1998, when I was seven years old. To people from Sedona, Flagstaff is the 'big city' you go to for weekend trips and exciting events. As a kid, Flagstaff meant adventure.
Then in 2007 my family moved to Flagstaff so I could attend Northland Preparatory Academy, sending me on a new academic adventure. After graduating high school, I attended our own Northern Arizona University and focused on psychology and criminal justice.
Since then, I have worked as an assistant in a real estate office for two years, but decided to follow in my older sister's footsteps of completing a year of service in the AmeriCorps VISTA program. The Coconino Association for Vocations, Industry and Technology (CAVIAT), is the Joint Technical Education District for Coconino County. I am now the Americorps VISTA at CAVIAT in charge of recruitment and marketing. Once again Flagstaff offers itself as a new adventure and I couldn't be more excited to see where it takes me!
I am a graduate of the University of California, Davis with degrees in Environmental Policy Analysis and Economics. I spent 10 years in environmental and educational consulting focusing on public outreach, resource conservation, data analysis and educational evaluation, particularly in STEM focused programming. I joined the Coconino County Education Services Agency (CCESA) as an AmeriCorps VISTA. I will focus my service on grant writing and STEM education in the Flagstaff community.
I have raised my family in Flagstaff for the past 7 years. We enjoy skiing, camping, hiking, exploring the flora and fauna of local forests and being together at home with our black lab and orange tabby cat. I have lived in several countries abroad but originally hail from Las Vegas, NV. I’m looking forward to what I can contribute to the Flagstaff STEM Education Project at the CCESA.
Guest Blog Post by Vicki Anderson, VISTA Member, STEM Educator and Curriculum Developer at Flagstaff Bordertown Dormitory
Kinlani Flagstaff Bordertown Dormitory has a Robotics/AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society)/STEM Club with 15 members so far! They are making robots with our Lego Robotics Coach-Mentor Larry Marek. They began using the NAU Cline Library MakerLab on September 14th with Bryan Johnson, the Tech Services Coordinator. Club members will learn TinkerCAD to use NAU’s 3D printer for their Engineering STEM Challenges prototypes.
On September 9th, nine high school students participated in an Indigenous Youth STEM Academy with the Flagstaff Open Space Program. This program aims to connect Indigenous youth with cultural and natural resources at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. The Preserve provides a unique opportunity for learning about the connection between culture, community, and stewardship as it is home to Northern Sinagua petroglyphs and habitation sites, and represents a place of cultural importance for many surrounding tribal communities. Each session encompasses a full day of activities, including an interpretive tour of the Preserve, a lunch panel discussion with local STEM professionals and students, and a hands-on service-learning project. This program is organized by STEM VISTA Member Erin O'Keefe.
STEM Engineering Challenges competitions are also open to all students biweekly. All STEM activities are coordinated by AmeriCorps VISTA educator Vicki Anderson, and our motivated FBD staff. As you can see, we are “steaming” ahead in our STEM Education projects!
The students attended the Flagstaff Festival of Science “Engineering Solutions” kick off with keynote speaker Kyle Maynard on September 22nd at NAU’s Ardrey Auditorium. He was born without a complete set of arms and legs. With engineering solutions from Kahtoola, a Flagstaff company, and serious determination, he has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa and Mt. Aconcagua in South America.
Get out for some of the 100 free events at the 28th Annual Flagstaff Festival of Science and you will see the Kinlani STEM students!
Dawn Pfeffer, Killip STEM Academy, STEM Curriculum
I graduated from Ohio University in Athens, Ohio with a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering. I fell in love with Flagstaff when my environmental engineering design teams traveled here in 2014 and 2015 and I knew then that I wanted to move here. When I graduated in May of 2015, I worked at an automation company called Rovisys in Ohio for two years. I was a Lead Systems Engineer for various customers and industries. In April of 2017 I was finally able to make my move to Flagstaff and I couldn’t be happier.
I spent my first four months in Flagstaff working on a trail maintenance crew with Arizona Conservation Corps, an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world. I got to know the people and places that surround Flagstaff and it deepened my love for this amazing city. At the end of those four months I wanted to use my skills as an engineer to help this community grow, so I applied to the AmeriCorps VISTA position at Killip Elementary. I work with Ted Komada to build and modify the STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) curriculum to better prepare students for the years to come. This is yet another experience that I will cherish forever. I am dedicated to the Flagstaff community and I consider this place my home, so please say hello to me; I would love to meet you!
The 2nd graders at Killip Elementary School are designing a pond for the Luna Park area at their school. To learn more about what the students need to consider for their design, educators Kim Edison, Mable Goodwin, and Wendy Tucker took their young students on a field trip to the Arboretum at Flagstaff on Wednesday, August 23rd. There they met experts from the Arboretum and Natural Channel Design to learn about forest health, as well as the differences between man-made ponds and natural ponds.
Teacher Wendy Tucker and her students observe the pond with Allen Haden
Allen Haden, the lead at Natural Channel Design, shared his expertise on aquatic ecosystems with the students. Allen asked the students to think about what they need to survive, and joked that the fish in the pond can't walk to the grocery store to get what they need. The students observed and then discussed what man-made ponds need to successfully keep organisms alive.
Coreen Walsh and Shannon Benjamin of the Arboretum at Flagstaff engaged students with information on lichens, plants, birds and beetles that make the forest their home.
Shannon Benjamin has the students guess what bird they are hearing and looking at,
and then she passed around a small vial with pine bark beetles inside.
Stay posted for more updates as the pond designs are developed and the pond gets built! Thank you to Allen Haden of Natural Channel Design, and the Arboretum for contributing to a successful educational field trip! If your school is interested in a field trip to the Arboretum before they close on October 31st, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest Blog Post by Lisa Winters, Research and Stewardship Volunteer Coordinator, Grand Canyon Trust
Did you know springs support more than 20% of the endangered species in the United States?
Despite being small areas compared to lakes or oceans, springs are really diverse! However, springs are also one of the most threatened ecosystems: the Springs Stewardship Institute reports that a lack of information and attention to springs has resulted in over 90% of springs lost in some areas.
Earlier this year, Kathryn Wertz’s 6th graders at Sinagua Middle School, Kesava’s 4-6th graders at Haven Montessori, and the Centennial Forest Outdoor Leadership Academy with Manager Cheryl Miller got the chance to contribute to springs research. Students traveled to different springs, defined as emerging groundwater, and measured water quality, water flow, identified plants and animals, and collected information on the source and extent of the spring. Afterwards, they discussed why springs might be threatened: human water use, livestock grazing, mining, or pollution are just some of the threats to our springs. “Use less water!” “Practice leave no trace principles!” and “stay on the trail!” rang out when prompted for suggestions on how we could become stewards of the springs.
These data collected help support a large forest restoration project in northern Arizona. The Four Forest Restoration Initiative is a collaborative effort across 2.4 million acres, to bring natural fire regimes, plant and animal diversity, and healthy forests back to the area. The project focuses on thinning small diameter trees, small prescribed fires, and also protecting water in the forests.
Springs are critical water sources for the diversity of animals that call forests home, and also for a variety of plant life. When forests become overcrowded (a healthy acre of forest should have about 30 trees or less, whereas now we might see 300 trees/acre), all those trees send deep roots down to suck up the available water. By thinning some of the trees, we will hopefully raise the water table, and provide access to surface water for the other species. The trees that are left to grow also have more space, more nutrients, and an easier time staying strong and healthy. A win-win for everyone!
Not only did these students collect important information that will be useful for forest management, but they also proved to be capable and enthusiastic citizen scientists! We can’t wait to do it again! Thank you to Joseph Holway from the Spring Stewardship Institute, Cheryl Miller from Centennial Forest, and Grand Canyon Trust for helping make this project a success. Thank you also to Arizona Game and Fish Department and the Heritage Fund for providing financial support to help get students outside doing real life STEM!
Teachers can apply for field trip funding through the Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Grant program. Link to the Heritage Grant site above and/or download the pdf here! The grant proposal is due by October 31, 2017.
The first cohort of 15 Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) are ending their year of service to the Flagstaff STEM Education Project, a collaboration with NAU's Civic Service Institute and STEM City. We are beyond thrilled and proud of all they have given to our community. The following infographic shares a little bit of the successes these VISTAs have contributed to the agencies they worked with and to all of Flagstaff in pursuing the overall goal of the project: The Flagstaff STEM Education VISTA Project seeks to increase the academic performance of low-income youth in STEM fields and their interest in pursuing STEM careers.
You can read more about the first cohort of VISTAs here. Please congratulate them all on their service. Thank you, thank you, thank you from Flagstaff STEM City!
Front Row: Maria Archibald, Mira Peterson, Kate Stanley, Megan Carmel, Meg Adakai Kabotie, STEM Coordinator Mindy Bell; Back Row: Dylan Lenzen, Lisa Winters, Chelsea Silva, Geoffrey Kie, Vicki Anderson, Robert McCann, VISTA Leader Kathy Farretta. Not pictured: Jake Burwell, Holly Havlicek, and Erin O'Keefe.
What did you do on YOUR summer holiday?
Sisilia Sinaga is a senior at BASIS Flagstaff who spent her summer as a volunteer intern at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center in Flagstaff. Sisilia has a head start on her senior project focusing on her keen interest in artificial intelligence and neural networks. Alicia Vaughan, the Director of Student Affairs at BASIS, partnered Sisilia with her mentor Dr. Ryan Anderson at the Astrogeology Science Center. Because Sisilia already has a strong math and coding background, she was able to step into one of Dr. Anderson’s projects with the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Ryan and Sisilia are using PySAT (Python Spectral Analysis Tool), a program that Ryan is developing to analyze spectra like those returned by the ChemCam instrument on the Curiosity Mars Rover. ChemCam shoots a laser at rocks and soil on Mars, breaking them down into a spark of plasma. The spectrum of light emitted from the spark contains a fingerprint of the chemical elements in the target. Sisilia is working on using neural networks to more accurately read that spectral fingerprint and dete4rmine the chemistry of the rocks and soils of Mars.
Neural python is the language within python that uses a library called TensorFlow™ to create neural networks. TensorFlow's website states that it was originally developed by researchers and engineers working on the Google Brain Team within Google's Machine Intelligence research organization for the purposes of conducting machine learning and deep neural networks research, but the system is general enough to be applicable in a wide variety of other domains as well.
Artificial neural networks (ANN's) are computing systems inspired by organismal nervous systems. Useful in image recognition ANN's can learn to identify images that contain a specific mineral by analyzing example images that have been previously labeled with that mineral.
Sisilia's biggest passions are computers, engineering, physics, astronomy, and math. She loves to program and write code in her free time. She is in her school's robotics club and participates in FTC competitions. She is also in the National Honor Society and volunteered with STEM City to assist students. Her first challenge was to fix the earthquake simulator at Killip Elementary School! You can see, via this video from Killip, that she was successful!
We wish Sisilia every success as she continues her senior project and pursues being accepted by her preferred university!
Thank you Sisilia for all you have done to advance STEM in STEM City!
E(ek!) Coli Sampling for the Safety of Humans and the Environment
Guest blog post by Chelsea Silva, VISTA Member for the City Sustainability Department and the Friends of the Rio de Flag
Escherichia coli, more commonly known as E. coli, is a type of fecal coliform bacteria. Bacteria are single celled microorganisms that can either exist as independent organisms or depend on another organism to live. E. coli bacteria are found in the environment (soil and vegetation) and in the intestines and feces of all warm-blooded animals and humans. That’s right, fecal = relating to feces = poop!
Most coliform bacteria are not harmful, but their presence in drinking water indicates that disease-causing organisms (e.g. pathogens) could be in the water system. Only particular strains of E. coli cause serious illness, and people usually contact these strains (especially strain 0157:H7) through consuming undercooked meats such as hamburger. Disease symptoms include diarrhea, cramps, nausea, and sometimes jaundice, plus headache and fatigue.
Safeguarding against E. coli is part of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s (ADEQ) mission to protect and enhance public health and the environment. The ADEQ conducts routine E. coli sampling throughout the state in order to reduce the risk of illness from disease causing organisms associated with sewage or animal wastes.
On June 28th, ADEQ staff trained staff and volunteers with Natural Channel Designs, Inc. and the Friends of the Rio de Flag on E. coli sampling. Trainees learned how to properly collect a water sample, how to process the sample using a handy “Processing Guide”, and how to record the data once processing is complete. Sampling in Flagstaff and the surrounding areas will provide the ADEQ with the data needed to protect our drinking water supplies.
Below show the initial and the final stage of processing the E. coli. After the sample incubates for 12 hours, you look at the large and small squares on the sample and count the ones that fluoresce under a black light.You then use a Most Probable Number (MPN) table to calculate the MPN of E. coli in the sample (you count the # large squares fluorescing in you sample and find this number on the X axis and do the same with the number of small squares fluorescing and find it on the Y axis to calculate the MPN of bacteria in the sample). The picture here shows that the sample contains bacteria, but not at a concerning level.
The Friends of the Rio de Flag is excited to partner with ADEQ and Natural Channel Designs, Inc. to engage citizen scientists in E. coli sampling. In the coming months, the Friends of the Rio will create a sampling plan with ADEQ to best fit the needs of our watershed. Afterwards, the Friends of the Rio will recruit volunteers to collect water samples throughout town. This will give us a better idea of water quality in our community.
Thank you to Meghan and Jake with the ADEQ for training us on E. coli sampling, and another thank you to Natural Channel Designs, Inc. for hosting the E. coli sample training day.
From L to R: Chris Tressler, Civil Engineer and Geomorphologist, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Mark Wirtanen, Biologist and Engineering Technician, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Oren Thomas, Conservation Projects Manager, Prescott Creeks; Jake Fleishman, Civil Engineering In-Training, Natural Channel Designs, Inc.; Chelsea Silva, STEM VISTA Member for Friends of the Rio de Flag and the City of Flagstaff Sustainability Division; Meghan Smart, Hydrologist, ADEQ; and Jake Breedlove, Grant & Watershed Coordinator, ADEQ
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator