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 Erin O'Keefe, STEM VISTA Open Space Aide, City of Flagstaff - Originally published in the City of Flagstaff Open Space Newsletter
On Saturday, March 10th, 2018, Open Space staff completed the first session of the 2018 Indigenous Youth STEM Academy. This year, we are partnering primarily with the Kinlani Bordertown Dormitory which consists of 9th-12th grade Native American students from various tribes. We had 9 students participate in our first session. The STEM focus area of this session was astronomy and included a site visit to Lowell Observatory. Our program began with a hike from Kinlani Dorm to Lowell Observatory via Observatory Mesa trail system. This gave us an opportunity to explain the significance of the relationships between Flagstaff Open Space and our neighboring properties.
Participants were given a private one hour tour of the Lowell campus followed by a 30 minute guest presentation from astronomer and researcher, Dr. Deidre Hunter, who is also co-founder of the Navajo-Hopi Astronomy Outreach Program. This program connects astronomers from Lowell to schools on the Hopi and Navajo reservations to partner in culturally-relevant astronomy-based curriculum. Dr. Hunter tailored her presentation to our specific group with a focus on the importance of minorities in STEM. She discussed her educational background and career path, gave information on her research, and described the Navajo-Hopi Outreach Program and how the program came about. The program session concluded with lunch provided for the students, transportation from Lowell back to the dorm provided by the Boys and Girls Club, and a gift card drawing for all participants. Students filled out questionnaires that aimed to gauge their interest in STEM careers, their interest in college, their favorite and least favorite parts of the program session, and why they think it is important for Native Americans to be in STEM careers fields.
Our next session will be a two part session taking place on March 26th and 31st with a STEM focus of Art and Graphic Design. Our guest presenter, Corey Begay, is a local Navajo STEM professional and artist who is the Lead Artist and Graphic Designer at the multicultural publishing company, Salinas Bookshelf, Inc. He will present to students on Monday night at Kinlani Dorm about his career path in STEM followed by a hands-on art activity. Part two of this session will take place on Saturday, March 31st which will consist of a visit to Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. The students will be taken on an interpretive tour of the Preserve where we will focus on the importance of our interpretive signs to show the possibilities of turning interests in art and graphic design into a professional career. Corey Begay will be present during this tour to share his knowledge and experience about turning a passion for art into a career.
Thank you to Marcus Yazzie, Recreation Coordinator, and Vicki Anderson, STEM VISTA at Kinlani Bordertown Dormitory, for their assistance with this event! If you would like to sign up for the Flagstaff Open Space Newsletter, click here!
Girls Take Center Stage at the Flagstaff All Girls Chess Championships
Guest Blog Post by William Cheney, Originally published in the Arizona Daily Sun
The 2017 All Girls City Chess Championships were held on Saturday, January 28, at Lowell Observatory. The tournament was moved one week after the scheduled date due to all of the snow Flagstaff received the weekend before. This was the third annual all-girls tournament and three sections were a USCF rated tournament, run by Northern Arizona Chess Center. This is the first year the event was hosted by Lowell Observatory and it attracted over 50 participants. Besides the K-3, K-5 and K-12 sections, there was also an unrated women’s section.
Lowell Observatory, STEM City, Northern Arizona University and Flagstaff Film Festival all hosted the event. In between rounds, students and families were able to explore the visitor’s center, look through telescopes and interact with the hands-on experiments at the site. They also met a female astronomer and heard her interesting presentation during the lunch time break. Dr. Deidre Hunter, an astronomer at Lowell Observatory, gave a presentation on women in science and her work with dwarf constellations. The Flagstaff Film Festival gave out two tickets to each of the first-place winners in each section. NAU gave out three scholarships to the first- through third-place winners in the K-12 section good for any STEM related field at NAU. Thank you to Provost Dan Kain for giving out the scholarships! Domino’s Pizza and Chick-Fil-A also contributed to the event.
The girls and their families really enjoyed the Spaceguard Academy at the Observatory!
In the K-12 section, the winners of the tournament were as follows: first place, Emma Tennyson, Phoenix area; second place, Mia Osmonbekov, Northland Preparatory Academy; third place, Barbara Senff, Blue Ridge High School. In the K-5 section, the city champ was Adrianna Long, 5th grade, Killip; second place went to Imola Seiben, 4th grade, BASIS Flagstaff; and third place went to Christian Begay, 4th grade Killip. In the K-3 section, first place was for Natasha Vasquez, second place went to Alexa Cardenas and third place was for Kayleigh Smith. All three girls are in third grade at Killip. The women were led by Lecretia Ashley. In second place was Sarah Martinet and third place went to Vicki Uthe.
Some of the top national and state girls in chess were at this tournament. In the 8-year-old USCF national all girls’ list was Natasha Vasquez, who is 91st in the nation and 6th in the state. In the 10-year-old group was Imola Sieben, who is 78th in the nation and first in the state. Also in the 10-year-old group is Adrianna Long, who is 93rd in the nation and second in the state. Emma Tennyson, who is 71st in the nation and first in the state, was there as well.
The 3rd Annual All Girls Chess Tournament Champions!
By Dave Engelthaler, Associate Professor at the Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Chair of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance. This column was adapted from the keynote speech, given by the author, at Science Foundation Arizona's "Giving a Voice to STEM" Conference at NAU on September 30, 2016.
I have often referred to Flagstaff as the Shining City on Arizona’s Hill. It is no accident that I borrow this phrase from the famous, precisely American, ideal of a “Shining City on a Hill”. The early pilgrims imagined that they could create such a community for themselves after escaping the historical norms of European controls on destiny.
Three hundred years later John F. Kennedy reminded of this founding ideal, stating that the world was watching our shining city and that we must live up to our promise; shortly there after, we embarked on one of the greatest journeys of all time and put a man’s foot on the moon (Flagstaff had something to do with that, more on that below).
Twenty years later, Ronald Reagan again reminded us of this American City on a Hill ideal; and while we may not often remember Reagan as a champion of science, he was convinced during his tenure to not only not cut the budget of the National Science Foundation, but rather double it, before he left office. But, as under Kennedy and Reagan and other presidents in before and after, no matter what our economic and cultural condition, we have always led the way in advancing humanity through the sciences.
It is this ideal that convinces me that in Flagstaff, we are a Shining STEM City on Arizona’s Hill.
In August of 2012, a group of Flagstaff Leaders, Businessmen, Educators, Scientists, and Concerned Citizens gathered in the woods on the base of the San Francisco Peaks. This group coalesced around the idea that Flagstaff is a STEM-rich City and that we as a community, businesses and schools, elected leaders and CEOs, teachers and families, needed to collectively band together to bring this rich surrounding to bear on the education of our children and enrich our communities.
There, up on our Hillside, we all mutually pledged our time, talent and resources towards making the STEM City ideals happen. In short – our goal was to have the most STEM literate graduates living and working in a thriving STEM-based economy.
We also had a unofficial motto for the day: “Dare Mighty Things”, which we borrowed from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who had, just the preceding night, coordinated the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars (and again, Flagstaff had something to do with this mission). And we both stole that from Teddy Roosevelt’s famous “Far better it is to dare mighty things” speech.
Historian, Fredrick Jackson Turner, just a few years before TR’s famous speech, gave us his “Frontier Thesis”, and proclaiming that with the end of the American Frontier, so might be the end the American spirit. While Jackson aptly, and controversially, linked Americanism and American spirit to the discovery and exploration of the American Frontier, I feel that he missed the mark in not understanding the new frontiers that we would identify and explore.
Our increased understanding and use of science and engineering opened up brand new frontiers, beyond land and sea.
One such Frontier, The Space Frontier, was no longer a pastoral landscape to watch from afar. Our STEM City has been at the forefront of the exploration of this new frontier, from the discovery of Pluto, to the training of Apollo astronauts in our backyard, to the camera control of the Mars Rover from our USGS facility, and now finally to the deep space explorations through our Discovery Channel telescope, providing insight into the beginnings of our universe and images of a frontier previously unseen.
Likewise, Flagstaff is home to TGen and the new Pathogen and Microbiome Institute at NAU, where some of the brightest minds are exploring another previously unseen universe – the microbiome. Every day, scientists in Flagstaff are embarking on the incredible journey into the human microbiome – the unseen ecosystem of bacteria and viruses and fungi that live on and in the human body. We are trying to understand how these microbes live, compete, collaborate and otherwise interact during our healthy and disease states. We, ourselves, our bodies, are the new frontier – and again that frontier exploration is here in our STEM City.
And we could go on about the new frontiers ventured by W.L.Gore engineers and SenesTech scientists and MNA paleontologists and Park Service geologists. The frontier is here in our STEM City and some of the greatest pioneers are the trainers of our next generation– the teachers and education professionals of our great public, charter and private schools. Most are ready, willing and able to interact with all of these resources; and some, like former STEM City Teacher of the Year Jillian Worssam, just kick down the door and say: “Let’s do this thing!”
Our STEM City is Worssam’s wildly successful Scientists in the Classroom. It is the Flagstaff Festival of Science (the longest running one in the country). We are the Coconuts; we are the Annual STEMMY'S Awards Ceremony; the STEM Art Competition; and the Super Bowl of STEM in the Dome event (where upwards of 8% of Flagstaff turns out!); we are the Space Station Science Experiment and the High Altitude Balloon Launches; and the superstar Killip Kindergarten Chess team that likes to challenge our Mayor. We are seventh-grade girls wearing lab coats inside a world-class research lab and we are a group of high schoolers rafting down our majestic Canyon to learn our geologic past. We are the Chamber Coding Camps. We are grad students teaching and learning in the K-12 classroom. We are parents, students and teachers on a hill having a star party. We are, in a phrase, America’s First STEM Community.
Arizona, and the rest of the country, is watching our shining STEM City
and we must live up to our promise.
Increasing the Number of Women in the STEM Workforce
A recent journal article in the Public Library of Science (PLOS) entitled “Women 1.5 Times More Likely to Leave STEM Pipeline after Calculus Compared to Men: Lack of Mathematical Confidence a Potential Culprit”, by J. Ellis, B. Fosdick, and C. Rasmussen, had some fascinating information and conclusions:
In this study, the proportions of students who cited reasons for not entering Calculus II were comparable across men and women, except for one: “I do not believe I understand the ideas of Calculus I well enough to take Calculus II.”
This lack of confidence was cited by 35% of women, and only 14% of men, all of whom originally intended on pursuing a STEM career. Women switching from STEM pathways are citing a lack of understanding of the material in Calculus I as a reason for not continuing their STEM studies significantly more often than men.
An article by K. Piatek-Jimenez, “On the Persistence and Attrition of Women in Mathematics”, states that: “Confidence in mathematical ability may also be a possible reason why women do not choose to pursue mathematics. Women frequently report lower self-confidence in mathematics than their equally talented male peers. This trend is true even amongst the most mathematically talented students.”
Lack of confidence plagues women in other fields as well. "The Confidence Gap", by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, cite a number of studies. Hewlett-Packard found that women applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job; while men applied when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. Brenda Major, a social psychologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, started studying the problem of self-perception decades ago. “I would set up a test where I’d ask men and women how they thought they were going to do on a variety of tasks.” She found that the men consistently overestimated their abilities and subsequent performance, and that the women routinely underestimated both, while the actual performances did not differ in quality. “It is one of the most consistent findings you can have.”
Margie Warrell, in a recent Forbes article, “For Women To Rise We Must Close 'The Confidence Gap' wrote: “…wherever I’ve worked in the world, I’ve consistently that a fundamental lack of belief in our own value, worth and ability to achieve consistently tempers female ambition and holds women back." She cited an eight-year study by Wiebke Bleidorn that analyzed data from over 985,000 men and women across 48 countries, from Norway to New Zealand, Kuwait to South Korea, asking them to rate the phrase: “I see myself as someone who has high self-esteem”, and found that across the board – regardless of culture or country, men have higher self-esteem than women.
“Math for Girls, Math for Boys”, by A.K. Whitney in the Atlantic, stated that only one in ten contestants in the International Math Olympiad are female and many teams have no girls at all. Last year’s U.S. Team, which took gold for the first time in 21 years, was all male. Sherry Gong, who in 2007 was the second American girl in International Math Olympiad history to get the gold medal, recalled getting a pep talk during a competition from her coach. “I thought I was doing really badly, but ... she said girls tend to underestimate how well they are doing.”
What can we do to increase confidence and foster perseverance for all students to succeed in high-level mathematics and STEM studies?
Programs to increase confidence and persistence, as well as STEM skills, are growing in STEM City (aka Flagstaff). Highlighted programs include:
Girls on the Run (GOTR), celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, has a primary goal of increasing self-confidence in young women. See this STEM City blog by Marney Babbitt on how you can participate.
Growth Mindset is being used by a number of teachers in Flagstaff including Elii Chapman, a math and science teacher at Flagstaff Junior Academy, and the runner up for the 2016 Coconino County Teacher of the Year. (Look up Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth to learn more.)
All-Girl Events/Competitions including all girls’ math or chess tournaments is another way to reduce the social issues that come with young women in competitive environments with young men. The Flagstaff Chess Club will hold its 3rd Annual All Girls Chess Tournament in January, hosted by a strongly supportive Lowell Observatory staff, and including a lunchtime talk by a female astronomer. The Cactus-Pine Girl Scouts have held all girls engineering events, coding workshops, and after-school STEM activities for local students.
With Math I Can is being promoted by FUSD math specialist Jane Gaun, and others. This is a pledge we can all take to not make negative comments about mathematics!
INTEL Math and other math education courses are offered to local math teachers through FUSD and the Coconino County Educational Services Agency (CCESA).
Cash for Calculators is an initiative of FUSD and the Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce to encourage businesses to purchase graphing calculators for schools so students can use them during the year and be more prepared for the exams that require these calculators.
Engineering is Elementary (EiE) has design challenges that encourage girls and all students to increase persistence, creativity, confidence, and more. The award-winning curricula from the Museum of Science Boston (MOS) is widely available in Flagstaff. FUSD has two EiE kits at each grade level in all ten elementary schools. Thanks to funding from the Arizona Community Fund of Flagstaff (ACFF), the CCESA has all 20 kits available for K-5 teachers in any school to check out after they have taken the free workshop on using the curricula. STEM City, with funding from ACFF, the W.L. Gore Foundation and the Ernest and Evelyn Chilson Fund, have four out-of-school time kits available to Girl Scout troops, STEM clubs, etc. The nationally-recognized Center for Science Teaching and Learning at NAU is working with Flagstaff's U.S. Geological Survey's Astrogeology Center and the MOS to create three new engineering units with an astrogeology theme and cutting-edge science.
Ready.Set.Code is a Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce initiative working to increase computer and app coding skills in students. Scott Hathcock and cohorts at the Chamber launched Ready.Set.Code with both “Hack the Class”, and the “Summer of Code” events, after least year’s initial coding camps at College America were such a success.
Robotics Camps and Clubs are both growing in Flagstaff. The County Parks and Recreation Department held two lego robotics camps in June and has room available for their two upcoming camps the first week of August. The CocoNuts robotics team leads summer camps for students and has an upcoming camp for adults interested in coaching robotics. The camp is only $20 and is coming July 26 and 27th if you are interested! The Girl Scouts recently hosted a Video Game Design Workshop for 50 girls at NAU. Killip Elementary has a K-2 coding club, FJA has a middle school coding club, and we know that the many schools with robotics teams use coding to get those robots moving!
STEM City has held two free Code.org workshops with master teacher Janice Mak, and also freely loans out instruction materials. STEM City also has engineering kits, bioscience kits, and more, to freely loan out to teachers and home-school parents.
Coconino Community College now offers two engineering courses as well as advanced math and physics, and has an Engineering Pathways grant to increase engineering in middle schools, high schools and at CCC.
Northern Arizona University has a higher percentage of women in science and engineering than most colleges and universities (data coming soon)!
Please contact STEM City if you have programs you would like highlighted in a blog post or in the STEM Community e-letter. And thank you for all you do to increase both skills and confidence in our youth!
Thank you to Melissa Sevigny of KNAU and the Arizona Science and Innovation Desk for the interview on this article and inspiring this post!
Superbowl of STEM
The 3rd Annual Flagstaff Community STEM Celebration kicked off the week on Monday, March 7th at the NAU Skydome with almost every school, STEM business, government agency, and non-profit in Flagstaff! You can relive the excitement with Flg4TV's 2 minute video here!
High-Altitude Balloon Launch
On Wednesday, March 9th, Teacher Kaci Heins and 100 NPA 6th graders sent their payload to over 106,000 feet on a high-altitude balloon from the Flagstaff Airport. Community Leader Bruce Sidlinger and his Aeronautics Engineering class from Flag High, Airport Director Barney Helmick, the Coconino Amateur Radio Club, the Civil Air Patrol, and many other community partners were there to assist. You can see images and hear the story from KNAU's science and technology field reporter Melissa Sevigny here.
Women Executives in STEM Panel
NAU hosted the panel on Thursday, March 10th. All of the women had connections to NAU and facilitator Elizabeth Glass recommended that the many students in attendance use their alumni network as they search career opportunities.
AZ North Regional
The Skydome was brimming again on Friday and Saturday with the CocoNuts and 52 other teams, for NAU's inaugural FIRST Robotics Arizona North Regional contest, which pitted robots against each other to try to take down a castle. You can read Corina Vanek's article on the event here. Microchip sponsored pit tours by volunteers from many of the teams, as well as a VIP luncheon that was well-attended by Flagstaff's government, business, and education leaders. FIRST, which stands for --- , is a non-profit founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway. It encourages students to pursue STEM and also develops skills in teamwork, problem-solving, creativity, and gracious professionalism.
Congratulations to everyone on helping make STEM Week 2016 the best ever in Flagstaff STEM City!
Guest Blog by Dave Engelthaler, Originally published for the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance in the Flagstaff Business News - November 10, 2015
As hopefully most readers know, Flagstaff declared itself as America’s first STEM Community in 2012. STEM (the ubiquitous acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is commonly discussed in our schools, in academia and in workforce development as a goal for literacy in the 21st Century. In Flagstaff, we have a wealth of STEM resources in our businesses (e.g., Gore & Assoc., SenesTech, Machine Solutions, Northern Az Healthcare, etc.) and research institutions (e.g., Lowell Observatory, TGen North, Museum of Northern Arizona, etc.), let alone NAU and Coconino Community College. In the fall of 2012, Flagstaff Forty, now known as the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance, initiated a community conversation and ensured a community commitment to using these resources to support and improve our local schools’ ability to achieve STEM literacy for all students.
Over past several years, our STEM City has grown in stature and success. We are continually held as a model for community leadership and collective action on STEM. The reasons are numerous but some of the highlights include: having a community board dedicated to advancing all STEM in the community; having the annual celebration of the STEM Teacher, Leader and Student of the Year; the Superbowl of STEM Event held annually in NAU’s Skydome, which brings out nearly 10% of the city’s population; Flagstaff’s Festival of Science, the longest running one of its kind in the nation; and most importantly the abundant activities and interactions between students, teachers and local scientists and engineers, which end in unparalleled STEM learning opportunities and radical inspiration of hundreds to thousands of our students.
Now, we are moving to the next level of community engagement – coordinated community impact. Rather than just one-on-one interfaces with STEM businesses and classrooms, we have now moved to a model of having multiple businesses work with academia and multiple schools on a coordinated program to educate and enrich both the students and the community. Through the leadership at NAU’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning, the National Science Foundation has recently awarded a three-year $840K grant to build a yearlong Bioscience course for Flagstaff high schoolers. NAU has brought together TGen North, North Country Healthcare, the County Public Health department, Flagstaff Unified Schools District, the Coconino Association for Vocations Industry and Technology (CAVIAT) and the STEM City Center to build a real-world problem solving bioscience course for CAVIAT students, 44% of which are Native American. The vision for this program encompasses outlying county schools as well. Where else would high school students get to work closely with doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, and genomic scientists on development of a tool to detect and track influenza-like illness in their schools and neighborhoods? Where else but our STEM City. The Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance strongly encourages all community members to join the movement towards a stronger, more sustainable 21st Century economy but supporting STEM literacy.
Find more information here!
Jillian Worssam, the first STEM City Teacher of the Year, and professional science educator at Sinagua Middle School, had a big day on Friday, October 23rd, with her "Scientists in the Classroom" program. Initiated by Jillian several years ago, this program now includes 19 community STEM partners (link here for a list of all classroom STEM partners) that are paired with Jillian's and other science educators classes at Sinagua Middle School. On Friday, TGen North, Nestlé Purina, Mountain Heart and Lowell Observatory each had representatives visiting one of Jillian's 8th grade classes.
Scientists in the Classroom consists of two separate initiatives. The monthly classroom mentor program, and a one-on-one scientist-with-student mentoring program for Honors Classes. You can read more about both at the program website and in this Arizona Daily Sun article by Corina Vanek here.
Ande Burke, the Marketing Director for Mountain Heart, has the distinction of being the very first classroom mentor for the Scientists in the Classroom program!
The one-on-one program where a scientist is paired with Honors student includes Jeff Hall, the Director of Lowell Observatory, who visited Jillian's class to present the latest in space to the entire class. Rory Hack, his mentee, will become the classroom expert on Dr. Hall's research. Scientists in this program are not all local; there are 60 partners total, and some are from as far away as Russia and Scandinavia, New Zealand, and the Antarctic bases! Scientists and students share two e-mails per month as students learn more about the scientist and their research and produce podcasts, videos, papers and more.
The CocoNuts FRC Robotics Team from Coconino High School was challenged by NAU professor and SETI cave biologist/ecologist Jut Wynne to design and prototype a robot to explore caves on Mars. The students presented their solution, CRAWDAD (CocoNuts Robotics All-terrain Walking and Driving Articulating Device) at the 2nd International Planetary Caves Conference at Lowell Observatory on Thursday, October 22nd.
The CocoNuts completed background research, met with experts from the US Geological Survey, and took a trip to the Flagstaff Lava Caves before settling on a hybrid design between a climbing robot and the Curiosity Drive Train. The CocoNuts submitted their scientific abstract to the conference committee and were accepted to present at the conference.
The CocoNuts presented their design and 3D drawings of their concept to the audience 0f professors and students from several universities, including NAU, Carnegie Mellon, and the Colorado School of Mines, as well as engineers from NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The presentation was well received, and the presenters were able to answer the many questions asked during their Q&A, including a question from a JPL engineer who asked, "When do you think it will be ready?"
The CocoNuts coaches and entire Flagstaff STEM community are proud of these young engineers. Congratulations to the presentation team of Drew Stringer, Luke Peterson, and Carson Nablo. Thank you to Christine Sapio and Dave Thompson, CocoNuts Super Coaches, who provided the information and photos for this post.
Lowell Observatory has been hosting astronomy camps for kids for the past four years. They began with the elementary age summer camps, and then added the year-round monthly pre-school camps three years ago. Lowell continued building their outreach program by adding middle school summer camps two years ago. The camps build on each other so students in increasing grade levels move from closer to more distant objects in space, and from simpler to more complex topics. As Samantha Flagg, Education Coordinator at Lowell said, "I love that moment when they really grasp that concept - that lightbulb moment."
The 1st and 2nd graders study the solar system and build models of the planets. 3rd and 4th graders study galaxies, and the 5th and 6th graders focus on life on other worlds. They worked in teams with different tasks (communication, landing, safety, etc.) and designed a mission to Europa. The Middle School camps are in the evening and the students becomes observational astronomers, learning how to use the telescopes and navigate the night sky. High School students can begin volunteering at Lowell Observatory when they are 16 years old.
LOCKS (Lowell Observatory Camps for Kids) solid instructional model pairs a certified teacher with a Lowell educator and often an intern as well. This means there is both teaching and astronomical expertise for each class, as well as a low student to adult ratio. Lowell also employs a registered nurse onsite to ensure child health and safety.
The preschool camps continue monthly on the third Saturday of the month. These activity-based, hands-on camps are for children ages 3 to 5. View the LOCKs Preschool flyer here. And many thanks to the teachers, instructors, and interns that let me join in the summer adventures at Lowell Observatory!
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator