Guest Blog Post by Tad Theimer, NAU Professor of Biology
Flagstaff is a city of science. We are literally surrounded by science. Up on Mars Hill there lies Lowell Observatory, to the north the Museum of Northern Arizona, the offices of the USGS, to the east and west the laboratories of GORE, to the south Northern Arizona University, the Rocky Mountain Research Station, TGen, the Naval Observatory, to mention but a few.
So I stand here as a scientist in a city of scientists. How many of you out there are scientists? How many the family or friends of a scientist?
It’s been said that you know you are a scientist when you wake up on a Saturday morning and think, “I could walk the dog, I could read the paper, I could go for a run, but what I really want to do is analyze that new data set, or sneak off to the lab for one more quick experiment.” And all your friends and families of scientists have seen that, you’ve seen them sneak out the door late at night or early in the morning. So we here all know that inside the breast of every scientist beats a heart as passionate, as driven, as that of any artist, musician or poet. Scientists do what they do because they can’t help themselves. They are driven by an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, by an insatiable hunger to understand the world. That relentlessness, that dogged curiosity, is something folks who haven’t been around scientists may not realize, and as a result they may underestimate the power that stands here today. Because that same passion, that same resolution, that scientists bring to doing science, scientists will also bring to defending science. And that is why we stood here last year, and why we stand here today and why we will be here next year, and the year after that, and the year after that!
So we here in Flagstaff understand what science is, why it is important, and that we must help others understand the important role science plays in our lives. The speakers who went before me articulated that very well. But there is another point about science that we have to make folks understand. Scientists follow data to whatever truth they may lead, regardless of the implications that truth may have. And so scientists sometimes discover inconvenient truths, truths that make us have to question the way behave toward this earth, toward each other. Truths that are inconvenient because they come with costs. The cost of making sacrifices today so that our children and grandchildren can have a decent world to live in tomorrow. This is an important role scientists play, and
I have been trying to think of a simple analogy to help folks understand that important role of science, so let me try this out on you:
Let’s imagine that my inconvenient truth is that I only have $10 in my bank account. But because of this magical piece of plastic called a credit card, I can buy a car, I can buy fancy food and delicious drinks. And some of my friends will support me in ignoring my inconvenient truth because they like to ride in my car and drink my drinks and eat my food. But one or two of my friends will take me aside and say “Tad, what are you doing? You’re acting crazy! You only have ten bucks! If you keep this up you’re heading for financial ruin!” Now we all know which one of those friends is the most valuable. It’s the one with the courage to stand up and tell me the truth even though I didn’t want to hear it. And that’s what scientists do! They are the friends who stand up and tell us the truth even when we don’t want to hear it!!
We are passing through dark days for science. Honesty, reliability, consistency, responsible conduct. These are the cornerstones of science. These are also the foundations of a civil society. Yet every day these ideas are mocked, denigrated, cast aside! We live in a time when integrity has been replaced with irresponsibility, where falsehoods hold the same credence as facts. It is no wonder that we sometimes feel dazed, in a world turned upside down.
These are dark days, but we have seen darker. When I am most in despair for this world, I am reminded of Galileo, that great scientist who dared to follow his data to an inconvenient truth, that radical idea that the earth was not the center of the universe, fixed and immovable, but instead moved around the sun in its orbit. Today that seems like a ridiculously harmless fact, that the earth goes around the sun, but at the time, it was a very inconvenient truth, for it flew in the face of religious dogma. So at the age of 70, Galileo was dragged from his home, thrown in prison and eventually brought before the Inquisition in Rome, forced to kneel and to recant his life’s work, to state that the Earth was immobile and did not move in its orbit. But the story is told that as Galileo walked out of that room, he whispered under his breath, “and yet, it moves!” And so might we say to those who deny climate change today, “and yet, it changes!”
You can ignore the truth for a while. You can walk away from the Paris climate accords, you can tell your administrators to strike out all references to human-caused climate change. You can confuse the electorate by saying climate change is still debated, that there is no consensus. You can ignore the National Academy of Sciences and 17 other scientific societies that have stated that human-caused climate change is real and needs to be addressed. You can ignore all that and build yourself a beautiful house of cards. But eventually that house of cards will fall. Scientists know this. Scientists understand the meaning of that old Buddhist saying: “There are three things in this world that cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth”!
Make no mistake, the walls of ignorance are strong, especially when reinforced by girders of greed and self-interest. But history has shown us that that stone of ignorance will yield to the cold, hard steel of science-based fact. It is for us today to follow in the footsteps of all those scientists and believers in science that went before us, to pick up those hammers of steel and bring them down on that rock of ignorance, knowing all the while that those walls will not fall to one blow, or to a thousand, but the point is to keep on hammering, to keep those hammers ringing. So I say, make those hammers ring here in Flagstaff, but also make ring so that they can be heard down in the statehouse in Phoenix. Make those hammers ring here in Flagstaff, but also make them ring so that they echo in the halls of congress back in Washington. Make those hammers ring here in Flagstaff, but most importantly, make those hammers ring so that they rattle the very walls of the White House! Make those hammers ring!
Guest blog post by Julia Sullivan and Sally Henkel, AmeriCorps VISTA Members at the Grand Canyon Trust
Scientists in the Classroom is a STEM mentorship program that facilitates the collaboration between an entire class and a local organization committed to STEM education. For the Grand Canyon Trust, this partnership takes place once a month with sixth graders at Sinagua Middle School. Lead by Lisa Winters, Research and Stewardship Volunteer Coordinator at the Trust, this partnership is now heading into its second year. Americorps VISTA Members Sally Henkel and Julia Sullivan have joined the partnership as well. In October, students learned about the different types of public lands on the Colorado Plateau, how federal agencies work together, and that everyone has ownership in public lands. This month, they learned about uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region and potential changes to the present rules on the mining of uranium in this area.
Uranium mining is a complex topic. In order to break it down, we first discussed the differences between renewable and nonrenewable energy and the ways in which we consume energy on a daily basis. Then, students got a sneak peek of the Trust’s new film on the status of uranium mining in the Grand Canyon region. The film highlights the recent review of the 20-year moratorium on uranium mining around the Grand Canyon and gives voice to the communities that could be affected if the ban were to be lifted. After digesting the film, students identified some major themes and were encouraged to think critically about the issue and discuss further questions they would like to know more about. It was uplifting to see young people think critically about the use of public lands and to use their young voices to advocate for the places that they care about!
My name is Julia Sullivan, and I am currently working as the AmeriCorps VISTA Youth Engagement Coordinator at Grand Canyon Trust. I grew up in the beautiful Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts before moving to Washington, DC to attend American University, where I earned degrees in Environmental Studies and International Development. I also spent much of my time as a college student training and competing as a member of American University’s cross country/track team. I graduated in 2014 and, after a stint working on international policy with The Nature Conservancy and coaching high school cross country in my hometown, decided to join the Peace Corps. During my two years as a Community Environmental Conservation Volunteer in Panama, I lived in a rural coffee-farming area and worked closely with community members to bring a number of conservation projects to fruition. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with teachers at the community school to facilitate sexual health workshops, leadership trainings, and camping trips with local youth.
Now back in the States, I’m thrilled to have made the move to Flagstaff and to be working in a position that combines my two great passions – environmental conservation and working with youth. This year, I look forward to connecting diverse young people to the natural splendor of the Colorado Plateau, inspiring them towards environmental stewardship and advocacy, and creating opportunities for them to step into leadership roles in the field of conservation.
My name is Sally Henkel and this year I’m working with the Grand Canyon Trust as their Citizen Science Volunteer Coordinator. I will be working towards engaging underrepresented youth in citizen science and making conservation more accessible. I just recently found my way down to Arizona from Missoula, Montana. While Montana has been home for several years, I fell in love with the Colorado plateau on an impromptu river trip a few years back.
I graduated with a BA in forensic anthropology and mountain studies. I have since moved all around working as an international trip leader, a field instructor in Yellowstone, a wildlife biologist, a teacher, a beer slinger, and adventure snack extraordinaire. Upon moving to Montana roughly five years ago, I began to discover the depth of my love for conservation and ecology. I’m passionate about connecting people to the landscape, wolverine conservation, and teaching ecological knowledge as a means to understand systems. When I’m not in the office, I can usually be found running around the woods, telling corny jokes or seeking winter- usually they all happen at once!
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.
Maria grew up in central North Carolina on the banks of the Eno River, where she developed a passion for being outside and protecting the environment. In 2015, she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a degree in Environmental Anthropology, and has since traveled around the country working in environmental education. She worked as a Naturalist for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, where she taught ecology and led interpretive hiking tours in Aspen, Colorado, as an Environmental Educator for The Ecology School, where she taught science to groups of students in the outdoor classrooms of southern Maine, and as a Naturalist for Point Reyes Summer Camp, where she led outdoor activities and backpacking trips in the Point Reyes National Seashore. She is excited to move to Flagstaff, where she will be working as the Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Grand Canyon Trust.
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.
We are recruiting for new STEM VISTAs for 2017-2018! Click here for more information!
Ms. Wertz - Teacher Feature - December 2016
Kathryn is committed to the Scientists in the Classroom program at SMS, founded and run by 8th grade science educator Jillian Worssam. This program has two components - a one-on-one mentoring program for the 7th and 8th grade Honors Science students, and a classroom business-engagement program for all other science classes. This partnership program has expanded each year since Jillian began it four years ago, and is based on businesses, government agencies, and non-profits that are willing to share their STEM and work expertise with 6th - 8th grade students.
Kathryn presently has five STEM partners! This means she has to do some juggling with her classes to keep them all on track when she has different partners coming into each class on different days, but she claims it is well worth it for what her students gain from these STEM partners!
Judy Tincher with the Arizona Conservation Corps has been a partner with Kathryn for the past three years. Her team visited the classroom to introduce what the Arizona Conservation Corps is all about. Students got to participate in a "Safety Briefing" and were even introduced to some of the equipment worn and used by actual Corps members! Warner's Nursery has also been a Scientists in the Classroom Partner for the psat three years and is working with one of Kathryn's classes this year.
The Museum of Northern Arizona is a new partner this year. Meg Adakai, a STEM VISTA Member, and Phyllis Wolfskill (a former educator at SMS!) included an introduction to the museum and a lesson on careful observation and excavation of artifacts during their first visit to their partner class. The next month, Dr. Larry Stevens led the students in a discussion of ecological food pyramids and the students built a food pyramid with local species.
Lisa Winters is also a STEM VISTA Member, doing citizen science with Grand Canyon Trust, another new Scientists in the Classroom partner. Lisa is not new to the program though as she represented Arizona Game and Fish as a partner last year! Lisa also participates in the one-one-one mentorship program and she had her mentee, Brook Bellar, help her present on healthy watersheds to her new partner class.
The Center for Ecosystem Science and Society (EcoSS) at NAU is a new partner as well. ECOSS created an Education Outreach Committee and have presented at the Festival of Science as well as other venues, teaching studnerts about ecology and ecosystems. Dr. Ben Koch, and graduate students Alessandra Zuniga and Adam Siders led the students to a site where they could begin a decomposition study on a variety of natural materials.
Thank you Kathryn for your educational leadership, and thank you to all her STEM Partners working with Kathryn to increase student engagement and understanding about STEM concepts and careers!
The Girls on the Run season finale on November 11th at Coconino High School included a Hall of Heroes with many STEM professionals represented! Thank you so much to the following Wonder Women for participating in the 2016 Hall of Heroes!
Medical professionals, Dr. Kate Preston, Dr. Margaret Donnelly and Clinical Pharmacist Randee Fullenwider, all shared their experiences in the medical field with the girls.
Mechanical Engineer Beth Cooperrider, Lawyer Jennifer Mott, and Wildland Forest Fighter Maggie Knight shared their journeys and careers with the girls.
Lowell Observatory Astronomers Dr. Lisa Prato and Dr. Deidre Hunter shared starry wonders, and Lisa Lamberson, owner of Mountain Sports, described the joys and challenges of running a successful store in downtown Flagstaff.
Thank you all for your contributions to empowering our young women through the Girls on the Run Hall of Heroes!
Hi all! I am a native Michigander who made the leap west in 2011 to pursue a M.S. in Aquatic Ecology at Utah State University. I then moved down to Flagstaff to work as a Colorado River Fish Biologist in Grand Canyon, where I discovered the beauty of the desert as well as a love for Ponderosa pines and Abert’s squirrels.
As the Citizen Science Volunteer Coordinator with Grand Canyon Trust, I look forward to creating stewards and advocates for the unique landscape, water, and wildlife of the Colorado Plateau. I am particularly passionate about making scientific research more accessible to the public and spreading my curiosity and joy of nature with others.
In this next year, I hope to contribute to the Flagstaff STEM community, connect people with our amazing natural surroundings, and encourage the next generation of conservationists. If not chasing leopard frogs and garter snakes for work, you can likely find me hiking in our national parks, baking something sweet, pretending to be a runner, or crafting something I saw on Etsy.
Guest Blog Post by Lisa Winters, Flagstaff STEM Education Program VISTA Member with Grand Canyon Trust
With wide eyes, note-filled worksheets, and an urge to move and explore, 5th graders from Killip Elementary School shout out their observations on a sunny, Tuesday morning at Upper Lake Mary. “We’re part of the Biosphere!” they proudly state.
For the third year in a row, Killip Elementary School held a field trip revolving around the earth’s spheres: the atmosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Over sixty 5th graders from the classes of Ms. Butterfield, Ms. Hernandez, and Ms. Blahut moved through four stations to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to the ecosystem around them at Lake Mary. Local experts led each of the sphere discussions.
Lee Born (above), NAU professor and KNAU's staff meteorologist, represented the atmosphere with a lively conversation of atmospheric conditions, natural disasters, and how floods and hurricanes create changes that impact other spheres.
Felix Parham (left), a geologist from the City of Flagstaff, was the geosphere expert. Students thought critically about not just the ground we stand on, but all of the material that forms the foundation of our earth, how it’s shaped, and what we extract from it.
Also from the City of Flagstaff and a proud Killip Cougars alumni, Rae Byars (center) led the hydrosphere conversation. Students learned about the water cycle, and then connected the processes with the other spheres, as well as who and what needs water.
Lisa Winters from Grand Canyon Trust, with Naturalist Chris Keefe, pulled things together by discussing the biosphere, and how all living organisms rely on the other spheres. Students identified animals and their habitats around Lake Mary. They then made connections between their own interactions as members of the biosphere with their needs from other spheres.
Students reflected on the discussions they had at each station. And they will continue the learning back in the classroom where they will research a natural disaster and how the connections between spheres may change. They will conclude the unit by formally presenting their research posters.
This is what STEM education at Killip looks like, thanks to the dedication of the educators and the contributions of the "STEM professionals" from our community!