Walking the Walk in our 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.
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