Building Arizona’s STEM Ecosystem

It’s that time of year again when the Arizona SciTech Festival presents its kickoff conference, gathering together Arizona’s educators and STEM outreach community for a day of learning. This is the event’s seventh year!

This year’s conference, Building Arizona’s STEM Ecosystem, is being hosted by the Mesa Center for the Arts. I am looking forward to the new venue. One exciting feature of this conference is that there are sessions aimed squarely at wedding STEM and art: printmaking, glass making, and jewelry making, all incorporating technology.

There is also a special 105-minute video game design workshop offered in the morning (and repeated in the afternoon). 

And for homeschooling families, there is a session on STEM/STEAM projects for homeschoolers.

But wait, there is still the session that I am most looking forward to: Arizona Telemedicine Program’s Janet Major will present a session on ways to produce a virtual field trip! 

I will post updates on Facebook and Twitter throughout the day, and I will try to get photos from the conference published soon.


PCC STEM Innovation Challenge

What is Pima Community College’s Innovation Challenge?

  • Students engaging STEM to learn about entrepreneurship and innovation.
  • Mentors from the STEM business community sharing their knowledge and experience with students.
  • Community members coming together at an October showcase to explore the ways PCC fosters STEM learning.

It is also a series of workshops.

Five mentors presented pitches to student teams on Saturday, August 26 at Pima Community College’s West Campus library. Each mentor represented a different business or industry application of STEM, with the goal of giving the teams ideas to incorporate in their own pitches at the PCC STEM Innovation Challenge Showcase in October. I had the opportunity to videotape these mini-workshop sessions.

Note: I recorded only a short portion of David Lesser’s pitch because the questions from the students were too focused on their team’s project and I didn’t want to disclose that information prematurely.

Sign up for Jr Shark Tank Today!


Is your student a born Entrepreneur or Inventor? Do they have interest in Business, Engineering, Technology or Science? Are they thrilled by a challenge? Then S.Y.STEM Coalition’s Junior Shark Tank Competition is the summer program for them!!

From June 6-July 30th*, S.Y.STEM Coalition is conducting a scholarship competition for high school students in Tucson hosted at Sonoran Science Academy. For this competition, teams of up to 5 students will work together to develop a product, guided by one of our skilled mentors, and taught all of the skills they need to design, build, and market their entrepreneurial idea!

At the end of the 8 week program students, top Local Industry and Government Leaders will judge the teams’ projects, and the winning team can earn up to $5000 in scholarships!!!

Space is limited; register individually or as a team today at the Junior Shark Tank website. Application closes on May 20th. For more information, please visit or email

*8am-12pm, M-Th – students must attend at least 75% of classes to be eligible to win scholarship

UA students work on cool projects, show them to high school students at STEAMworks.

Inspirational and aspirational.

Helping high school students say, “That was really exciting! How would I go about doing some of that myself? How can I get there? What do I need to do?”

Lisa Stage and Kelly South talking about the University of Arizona’s new event, STEAMworks

STEAMworks is an ambitious new event that directly connects high school students to the work that UA undergraduates are doing in STEAM fields—science technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. The STEAMworks planning team, led by University of Arizona’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, Communications and Marketing staff members Lisa Stage and Kelly South, includes representatives from the UA STEM Learning Center, UA University Libraries, UA’s Eller College of Management, Tech Launch Arizona, UA Student Affairs & Enrollment Management/Academic Initiatives & Student Success, Early Academic Outreach, UA’s IEEE Student Branch, Cisco, and cStor. STEAMworks launches on Thursday, April 14, in the University of Arizona’s Student Union Grand Ballroom.

Stage described STEAMworks: “We will have forty to forty-five UA student groups, departments, and labs showing off what they do, and it will have interactive components for the attendees to really get some hands-on experience. It will be full of high school students, and it is also open to UA undergrads, PCC students, technical college students, anybody who’s interested in STEAM studies or STEAM careers or who asks ‘What can you do in science, technology, engineering, arts, math?’”

“It’s in the research that people learn through a combination of so many things—seeing, touching, hearing, smelling—so being able to have exhibits that hit on some or all of those components just helps to bring science to life,” elaborated South.

An important goal of the event is to have high school students work directly with college students. Stage stated, “That is why we had wanted to get the [UA] students, because they are so much closer in age, and a [high school] student really could say, ‘That could be me in three years.’”  She added that when UA students tell a high school student that they just started here [at the UA] two years ago, and now they’re doing this, the younger students will think, “Okay, that’s foreseeable!”

Another goal was to make sure that a broad mix of high schools participated, from schools that send 100% of their kids to college, to majority Title 1 schools that don’t send many students to college. “We really wanted to make these workshop opportunities available to students that might not have resources in their schools to try something out. They can hands-on try something out on this day and say, ‘Okay, I just spent 20 minutes with a Raspberry Pi and I get coding—it is a totally doable thing. If I could learn it in 20 minutes, it’s doable,’” explained Stage.

Here is a sampling of what STEAMworks will showcase:

  • X-Terminator Drone, utilizes UV light to sterilize virus-contaminated areas remotely and safely. The UA students who developed this award-winning drone will demonstrate the technology behind it.
  • Walking Free, sensors placed on the foot soles of people having problems with balance or foot sensation. In combination with apps, the system helps people learn to recognize when they are off-balance, helping them to walk better and avoid falls
  • Ferrock, an eco-friendly substitute for Portland cement. This material was invented by David Stone, a UA graduate student, and is now being tested by a UA undergraduate class.
  • Coding with Raspberry Pi, twenty-minute workshops for learning programming.

UA student clubs also jumped at the chance to be part of the event.  “We’ve got a whole bunch of engineering students, engineering clubs, the UA game developers, IEEE students club, the  Hardware and Computer Knowledge Society, , the autonomous flight and the autonomous underwater clubs,” said Stage.

In addition to working with high schoolers at the event, IEEE is STEAMwork’s student sponsoring group. “IEEE is our student-club partner on this because they went gangbusters. They went around to a whole bunch of different clubs, recruited, nudging people, ” noted Stage.

handBut exhibitors won’t all be UA students. The STEAMworks planning team heard about a boy scout who is 3D-printing prosthetic hands. “This boy scout and couple of the troop members send the hands to people across the world who need them. We found him, invited him, and he is going to be part of STEAMworks. It is mainly UA students, but if there were great opportunities to showcase STEAM in action like that, we wanted to do that,” explained Stage.

A wide range of event sponsors and supporters will be in the ballroom to talk about both the work their companies do and what students can do to move themselves into those careers. For instance, Adobe will present hands-on workshops, and University Libraries will show off 3D scanning and printing and virtual reality technology.

“The university sponsors … are very much a part of it. I think what they tuned into the most was the interactive component, that this wasn’t a traditional career fair or science fair, what we’re doing is an interactive exhibition of STEAM in action,” said South.

That fresh approach to science and career fairs will continue after the high school students leave for the day. “That evening,” Stage explained, “there’s going to be a reception with the sponsors and with the university leadership, where they [the UA student exhibitors] can actually make connections. They are not going to just be stuck in booths all day, because there is somebody from Adobe they can talk with then, somebody from Lenovo they can make connections with.”

The entire STEAMworks planning team is excited about the event and thrilled with the enthusiastic response from UA students. “We’re enormously grateful to all these students for taking the time to do this, and we are really excited about all the work they are doing, and I think the high school kids are going to be…  I mean, I’m 52 and my mind is blown!

“’Two years from now, I could be doing that?! I could be doing that?’

“ Yes, you could” said Stage.

She added, “These technologies can change the world.”


Check out the exhibitors coming to STEAMworks!

Wrap-up from 21st Century STEM: Integrate 2 Innovate

Hadi Partovi answering questions from panel of high school studentsI spent two full days in downtown Phoenix at last month’s 21st Century STEM: Integrate 2 Innovate conference. This ambitious event was presented by the Arizona STEM Collaborative (AzTEA-Arizona Technology in Education Association, ASTA-Arizona Science Teachers Association, AATM-Arizona Association of Teachers of Mathematics) and Science Foundation Arizona.

Keynote addresses from Hadi Partovi and Elizabeth Holmes were followed by Q&A sessions from panels of high school students. The questions weren’t just polite softball questions, which led to interesting exchanges.

One example was a question to Holmes, who dropped out of Stanford at age 19 to develop her company, Theranos.Elizabeth Holmes high school students Q&A panel A student asked her about the importance of going to college, given Holmes’ own education path. The answer wasn’t very enlightening, something along the lines of decisions like that are very personal and depend on individual circumstances/what was right for me would not necessarily be right for someone else, but it was a great question to ask.

The heart of the conference was its breakout sessions. Sessions presented innovative ways for teachers to engage students with STEM subjects. There were also great panel discussions focused on the bigger picture, how STEM fits into the community in terms of workplace development and public support.

One of the biggest messages I got from the conference is that Arizona needs to expand the scope and reach of its STEM education, and that the state’s citizens need to demand adequate financial support from every level of government in the state, from individual schools and districts to the Arizona Board of Regents, governor, and legislators.

Here’s a quick slideshow with highlights from the two-day event.


Arizona’s teachers embrace the challenge of teaching STEM in the 21st Century

Logo for 21st Century STEM: Integrate 2 Innovate ConferenceWhat does it take to create a conference for STEM teachers?

If you’re in Arizona in 2016, it takes vision, determination, and a dash of moxie.

The 21st Century STEM: Integrate 2 Innovate Conference on January 22-23 brings teachers from all corners of Arizona and the United States to the Phoenix Convention Center for two days. They will examine the interesting ways that STEM is currently being taught in Arizona’s K-12 classrooms, and will look ahead at the future of STEM learning in the state.

Spearheaded by representatives from organizations like Science Foundation Arizona, the Arizona Science Teachers Association, the Arizona Technology in Education Association, and the Arizona Association of Teachers of Mathematics, the Arizona STEM Collaborative decided it was time to showcase both what our state is doing right in STEM education and the ways that Arizona is becoming a powerhouse of innovative STEM teaching and learning.

The two-day conference features sessions , panel discussions, and speakers focusing on the wide world of STEM, from coding, 3D printing, robotics, and traditional STEM subjects, to STEM in the larger context of schools and communities. Many of the sessions focus on applications of STEM here in Arizona. In the session, How Did the Elk Cross the Road? (Eco-STEM in Action), teams of teachers will work with real data to  problem-solve ways to get elk across roadways without impacting humans. [What’s that you say? Elk in Arizona? You bet. Arizona encompasses an incredibly diverse range of terrain, fauna, and flora!]

While I am at the conference, I will be tweeting live, so be sure to follow me @agentsofsteam. That way, even if you aren’t at the conference in person, you can pick up some interesting tidbits of information and facts that I run across during talks and sessions.

And please be sure to check back here after the conference, where I will include a post-conference wrap-up, plus photos.

Exploring Brains in London

Human brain and spinal column displayed at Natural History Museum in LondonDisplay of unfolded cortex next to typical presentation of brainWhen there is STEAM to be done, I don’t restrict myself to the United States, or even North America.

I just got back from a week in London and between the amazing springtime weather, the history, the food, and the science, I had a blast!

These photos are from London’s Natural History Museum‘s Human Biology Gallery.

This was the best display I have yet seen about brains. To whoever had the idea to display a brain still attached to a spinal column, bravo!

And what a fantastic way to present the cortex. Genius!



Who Provides the STEAM in Tucson and Southern Arizona?

Ever wonder about the organizations behind the STEM and STEAM programs in Southern Arizona?

Here’s a quick roundup, in no order but alphabetical, of just a few of the *whos* responsible for the amazing learning opportunities that happen here!


LOCALGreen saguaro cactus issuing clouds of steam on a orange-to-red background

Bio5 Institute at the University of Arizona

Biosphere 2

Children’s Museum Tucson

Debbie Does STEAM

Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory, University of Arizona

Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium

Kuiper Circle Outreach

LPL (University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory)

Pima Air and Space Museum

Pima County JTED (Joint Technology Education District)

Pima County Public Library

PSI (Planetary Science Institute)

SARSEF (Southern Arizona Research Science and Engineering Foundation)

Science City at the Tucson Festival of Books

SparkConnect, Inc.

Startup Tucson

The STEMAZing Project, from the Office of the Pima County School Superintendent

Tucson STEM Community

Private Facebook group–contact Debbie Does STEAM for details

UA STEM Learning Center

University of Arizona College of Science



Arizona SciTech

Arizona Technology Council

Helios Foundation

Science Foundation Arizona



Did you spot some I’ve missed? Please let me know and I will add them to the list!




Why Was THA Community STEM Festival Different From All Others?

Snake handling
Snake handling

Earlier this month, Tucson Hebrew Academy, a private K—8 school in Arizona, presented its first-ever Community STEM Festival.

Since attending the event, I have talked with people who were also part of the festival, both exhibitors and visitors, and universally I have heard words like amazing and terrific used to describe their experience that day.

So what set this event apart from others that I have been to and/or planned?

My thought this morning is that it was the intimacy of the event that set a completely different tone from the typical atmosphere of STEM events. There is often a frenetic feel at STEM events, while the THA festival was quiet and relaxed.

Another big difference is that the setting for the event really lent itself to creating an intimate feeling. Rather than setting up exhibitors in one large room, tables were arrayed throughout the courtyard of the school.

If you were part of the STEM festival, either as someone who attended or as someone who exhibited, what are your thoughts on this? What do you think set this event apart from typical STEM events? What made this festival different from all others?

We need the answer so that the magic can be replicated and repeated at other outreach events!

Exploring STEM at 2015 SARSEF Future Innovators Night

Child touching Van de Graaf generator at the Tucson Mad Science display
Hair standing on end thanks to Van de Graaf generator

I had been waiting a while to catch this moment and SARSEF‘s 2015 Future Innovators Night was my chance. This child was checking out the Mad Science Tucson display at the event, and I just happened to be walking past. In fact, the resident mad scientist running the display was about to pack up his equipment in preparation for his stage show on the other side of the room.

Moments like this are neat–watching kids, and adults too, discover something new, learning about what happens if they try this or that.

Parents and other family members attending events like this: be ready to explore, to try something new, to get your hands dirty, to look silly. That is the best way to show children the fun in learning.