Reaching out to K-12 through ‘STEM Connections’

Laura Huenneke

          by Laura Huenneke, Provost

Earlier this week I took part in the ribbon cutting to celebrate the opening of the STEM City Center, a home at NACET for Flagstaff’s STEM City initiative. I’ve always known Flagstaff to be a “city of science”—the presence of USGS, the Forest Service, Lowell Observatory, and many other science and research entities is part of what attracted me to Northern Arizona University in the first place. Since then, I’ve been an advocate for discussions of how science, engineering, and research have helped build Flagstaff and the region.

So it’s been really exciting to see the Flagstaff Forty leadership organization and the city promote Flagstaff as the nation’s first STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) community. “STEM Connections” is a concerted effort to link local businesses and research organizations with K-12 teachers and classrooms. The aim is to inspire and encourage our community’s young people by giving them first-hand contact with scientists and engineers.

My own participation as a junior high school student in “Science Saturdays” at Washington University in St. Louis was a turning point in my life, so I know how important these first-hand connections can be.

NAU’s contributions to the local effort include many mentoring and outreach efforts by our faculty and students, as well as some financial support for the operations of the STEM City Center.

In recent years, the science and engineering programs here at NAU have been among our fastest growing. (And our health profession degree programs, also highly dependent on science, are rapidly expanding.) We hope that the Flagstaff STEM efforts open the door for many more of our region’s students to find rewarding pathways into STEM-related fields—and we are honored to be part of the effort.