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, Events & Outreach Coordinator with Flagstaff's Open Space Program through the STEM Education VISTA Project
The Indigenous Youth STEM Academy Completes its Pilot Year
This past summer, the City of Flagstaff Open Space Program implemented a pilot year of the Indigenous Youth STEM Academy (IYSA) at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve. As Native Americans are one of the most underrepresented groups within STEM careers and among STEM degree-holders, I recognized a need for focused programming with Indigenous youth on these topics. As such, the goal of this program is to provide Indigenous youth in Flagstaff and the surrounding communities with an opportunity to learn about science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in connection to culture, community, and stewardship while providing resources for pursuing higher education and professional careers in STEM fields.
Programming took place at Picture Canyon Natural and Cultural Preserve as it provides a unique opportunity for learning about Northern Sinagua petroglyphs and habitation sites, has an outdoor classroom area, interpretive signs throughout the Preserve, and represents a place of cultural importance for many surrounding tribal communities. The Academy consists of daylong sessions with various Indigenous youth groups. The key components of each session include an interpretive tour of the Preserve, a panel discussion with local STEM professionals and students, followed by an interactive learning project.
This year, we programmed with three different groups: the National Indian Youth Leadership Project (Gallup, New Mexico), Native Americans for Community Action (Flagstaff, Arizona), and Kinlani Bordertown Dormitory (Flagstaff, Arizona). Youth participants ranged from middle school to high school age, and represented tribes including Navajo, Zuni, Acoma Pueblo, Laguna Pueblo, Hopi, and Apache. The learning projects included rock art documentation and plant identification. Our panelists represented STEM fields from organizations including the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Natural Channel Design, Friends of the Rio de Flag, Museum of Northern Arizona, and Departments from Northern Arizona University including Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability, Communication, Forestry, and Applied Indigenous Studies. Panelists discussed their experiences in STEM, why they are passionate about their field and their advice for young people pursuing education and careers in those areas.
In order to gauge response to the programming as well as any changes in interest to pursue STEM in college or careers, our youth participants filled out pre- and post- survey questionnaires. The surveys included questions such as, “How interested are you in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) as a potential career?”, “How interested are you in going to college?”, and “How important do you feel it is for Native Americans to work in STEM fields?” One participant expressed, “It is extremely important for Native Americans to work in STEM careers. I feel Native Americans are extremely overlooked as we are seen to not be well-educated.” Another participant stated, “One of the biggest barriers [to Native Americans pursuing careers in STEM] is poor education in our home towns.”
Overall, we identified increased interest in pursuing college as well as learning more about various STEM areas and topics. There was a large number of positive responses to the programming activities, and many of our participants expressed that they found great value in the panel discussions specifically.
As this is the first year of the Indigenous Youth STEM Academy, we plan to incorporate lessons learned into year two of programming in 2018. We plan to focus on enhanced collaboration with a specific youth group in order to provide continuous and more focused programming to build upon each session rather than providing only one-time sessions with various youth groups. We will also be transitioning our program schedule from summer sessions to sessions taking place during the school year to be able to engage youth more consistently throughout the year.
It is extremely exciting and rewarding to have these types of experiences where we are learning alongside Indigenous youth and witnessing their strength, intelligence, leadership and potential. We greatly look forward to continuing these efforts into the next year and the future.
Guest Blog Post by Janelle Reasor, Art and Science Integration Specialist
Marshall Magnet Elementary School has the longest running science fair of all 28 schools in Flagstaff! They had 199 projects from grades 1 through 5 in the categories of Earth, Life and Physical Science. There were also many student demonstrations.
The 5th grade students were all interviewed by their projects, and then all the projects were displayed in the gymnasium. Twenty of the student projects will advance to the Regional Science Fair in Prescott, Arizona.
Thank You to all 28 of our Judges and our 7 interviewers!
From Coconino Community College:
Melinda McKinney, Alejandra Cardoza, Jay Patel, Brandon Hankins, Sun Jeon, Justin Lovett, Ambrielle Begay, Jenille Montelongo Rodriguez, Zachary Thomason, and Lexia Henderson
From Northern Arizona University - Carissa Miyano, Dr. John Tingerthal, Jill Hager Cocking, Dr. Brendan Russo, Hanako Ueda, Chris Wirth, and Melissa Dimas
From W.L. Gore & Assoc. - Mike Heinzer, Justine Roberts, and Alex Leonard
From The Museum of Northern Arizona - Courtney McDaniel, Florence Borgeson, and Jennifer Glennon
From the Rocky Mountain Research Station, USFS - Grace Sorenson and Roy Lopez
From FUSD, Retired - Sue Holiday
From The Arboretum - Coreen Walsh
5th Grade Interviews Conducted By: Dr. G. Kent Colbath, Geoff Kie, Dr. Jamie Sanderlin, Judy LeFevre, Moragan Guild, Cindy Foubert, and Heather Overton
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!
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.
"My name is Meg Kabotie and I am the VISTA for the Museum of Northern Arizona. I am looking forward to connecting youth in Flagstaff and the surrounding areas with all the STEM opportunities the museum has to offer!
I am a Flagstaff native and spent years during my childhood running around MNA. I lived there when I was a teenager while my dad painted a mural in the kiva gallery, and I have worked and volunteered there off and on for most of my adult life. I am a graduate of Northern Arizona University with dual majors in biomedical science and psychology with a minor in chemistry. While at NAU, I worked in a stream ecology lab assisting in entomology and symbiotic relationship research on Fossil Creek and Beaver Creek. I also worked in a cellular and molecular biology lab doing research funded by The Partnership for Native American Cancer Prevention studying possible molecular mechanisms of cancer. I love science in all its beautiful shapes and forms! I am especially passionate about conservation and appreciating the beauty and wonder of nature.
Because of my long history with the museum, as well as my love of natural spaces especially around northern Arizona, I truly believe in the mission of the museum, which is to inspire a sense of love and responsibility for the beauty and diversity of the Colorado Plateau through collecting, studying, interpreting, and preserving the region's natural and cultural heritage. I believe the museum has unique opportunities to spread STEM education through projects learning about Environmental Science, Forestry, Hydrology, Ecology, Biology and all sub fields, Geology, Paleontology, Archeology, Anthropology, Reclamation and Clean Energy Technology, Pollution Control, Water Conservation and Treatment Technology, Environmental Engineering, LEED Building Engineering, and math as it is applied in all these fields. I also think that framing STEM education in this way may draw interest from historically underrepresented groups such as many of the Native American tribes around the Colorado Plateau, whose lives and history are deeply connected to the land. I would like to get more youth from these tribes involved with STEM education at MNA in addition to the youth living in Flagstaff and surrounding rural areas."
STEM doesn't stop on the weekends in STEM City! Saturday, April 2nd was busy for families taking kids to Home Depot for the kids workshop, and then they wore their orange aprons to Willow Bend Environmental Education Center for Science Saturday: Energy!
NAU's Wind for Schools program was there to help kids make their own wind turbine, and to showcase their entry for the upcoming United States Department of Energy’s Collegiate Wind Competition. Kelly Paduchowski demonstrated Prometheus Solar's Plug n Play solar system, and Findlay Toyota shared the insides of the new Prius.
Clockwise from top left: Kelly Paduchowski with Prometheus Solar has Rowen Mahoney use solar power to run electronics; NAU Senior mechanical engineering student Michael Wertz explains their wind turbine entry; Michael Jaramillo of Findlay Auto uses his truck-based grill to feed the crowd; and NAU's Wind for School group at Willow Bend.
The next stop was the City of Flagstaff's Sustainability Program Fix-it Clinic at Local Works. Thank you to Local Works for donating the space and thanks to our wonderful fixers for donating their Saturday to help 70 community members with 88 broken items. We had an 80% fix rate!
On Sunday, the Museum of Northern Arizona, showed "Navajo Math Circles", a film by George Csicsery about the Navajo Math Circles project. You can see a preview of the film here and learn more about this successful and unique math education project here that empowers students in math and in life!
Did you miss these? Check the STEM Events Calendar to find local STEM happenings to attend! The next Kids Workshop at Home Depot will be Saturday, May 7th from 9-12 and they will be making birdhouses. You can register here.
The next Saturday Science Day at Willow Bend will be the same day from 9 am - 1 pm (show up anytime) and will have hands-on activities exploring the Rio de Flag!
STEM City Coordinator Mindy Bell took Swedish science museum educator Kajsa Berg on a tour to some of STEM City's (aka Flagstaff's) STEM education sites. Kajsa is visiting as half of an exchange established by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce. 6th grade science teacher Kaci Heins, from Northland Preparatory Academy, is the American half. You can read more about the goals of the exchange at their blog.
We began the tour at Sinagua Middle School. Teachers Gretchen Downey, Carrie Jenkins, Jenna Samora, Kathryn Wertz, and Jillian Worssam showcased student-centered learning in engineering musical instruments with recycled materials, plate tectonics with graham crackers, coding at your own pace, creating models of human systems, and doing investigations with dry ice respectively!
Flagstaff Junior Academy is in the ol' Flagstaff Middle School building by the pond. We visited science and math teachers Elii Chapman, Todd Saunders, and Heather Berginc. Kajsa was taken by the open format of the middle school, popular at the time the school was built!
We had a great time touring STEM City! If you want to know more about great STEM sites to visit in STEM City, please contact the STEM Coordinator.
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!
Flagstaff STEM Coordinator