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Cultivating An Ecosystem Of Conscious STEM Communities
Cultivating An Ecosystem Of Conscious STEM Communities
The genesis for the SciTech Institute can be attributed to Dr. Jeremy Babendure’s days working as a scientist in a lab in San Diego for Nobel Laurette Dr. Roger Tsien. They were developing molecular sensors to better understand the nature of RNA and DNA molecular and biochemical mechanisms. The lab was entrepreneurial in nature since Dr. Tsien had started multiple companies. Dr. Babendure and his lab partner decided start their own company based on technology developed in the lab. They actually landed venture capital funds until competitive intellectual property emerged and the venture capitalists favored it over ours.
Despite that setback, it turned out to be a fantastic opportunity, since Dr. Tsien decided to fund Dr. Babendure to develop and implement outreach programs for schools. Dr. Babendure subsequently raised $12M to build an operation in San Diego that included professional development for teachers. It ultimately led him to launching the San Diego Science Festival in order to inspire today’s students to become tomorrow’s science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) innovators. The Festival was a huge success by all measures.
With San Diego solidly on the track to improving STEM education and awareness, Dr. Babendure began to think about replicating the model in Arizona. He grew up in Phoenix and wanted to come back home. He was fortunate to find an incredible supporter in Dr. Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University (ASU), who provided the seed capital in 2010. Steve Zylstra, president & CEO of the Arizona Technology Council began opening many doors and Flinn Foundation provided the first investment beyond ASU. It felt like it was all coming back full-circle since Dr. Babendure was named a Flinn Scholar as an undergraduate at ASU.
Since 2012, the Arizona SciTech Festival hosts a series of expo and exhibitions held in diverse neighborhoods informs Arizonans from ages 3 to 103 about how STEM will drive our state for the next 100 years. Spearheaded by the Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Science Center, the Arizona Technology Council, Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona and ASU, the Arizona SciTech Festival is a wildly successful grass roots collaboration.
As it turned out, the Festival was just the first stepping stone to today’s SciTech Institute with a goal to build Arizona’s STEM ecosystem by connecting the dots of the talent pathways to the workforce. By creating a collective vision of STEM success for students of all ages and then cultivating cross-sector partnerships, the SciTech Institute inspires collaboration and highly engaged organization commitment.
The Chief Science Officer (CSO) program is another important pillar of the SciTech Institute.
Imagine building tomorrow’s global leaders by empowering students today. Imagine these students represent peers from their community and work directly with industry leaders to envision the future workforce. Then, imagine the results of these students collaboratively addressing some of Phoenix’s toughest challenges with STEM.
The CSO initiative is making this a reality! 6-12 grade students are elected by their peers as STEM leaders in their schools. CSOs undergo extensive workforce skills training to prepare them for their roles as the on-campus student voice for STEM and off-campus adavocate.
What’s increasingly clear to Dr. Babendure is that the SciTech Institute’s programs are catalysts for broader community conversations such as rethinking economic development strategies and reassessing K-12 priorities. This catalytic role could be the most important long-term contribution of the SciTech Institute.
Dr. Babendure will continue to focus on the needs of Arizona’s dynamic, transformative network of STEM advocates and look forward to growing this network with education, business, community and government partners throughout Phoenix and the entire state of Arizona.
Dr. Babendure’s ASU Flinn Foundation scholarship is a testimonial to Arizona’s excellent education opportunities. Phoenix also still operates as a small community in many ways. Within a year of returning to Arizona from San Diego, Dr. Babendure was able to meet with key leaders and have them buy-in to a state-wide science festival.
The Future of Innovation
Arizona boosts its economic prosperity when it connects a diverse group of next generation inventors and entrepreneurs with the businesses, educators and community members who can help them grow and succeed. Diversity must come from a perspective of race, gender and age so that we can continue to evolve. Broader community dialogue is needed, such as rethinking economic development strategies and reassessing K-12 priorities. It’s critical to engage the public, build employees’ morale and influence students’ academic and career choices. Perhaps most importantly, the voice of the student must be included in conversations about STEM and innovation.
Advice & Best Practices
The motto of the Chief Science Officer program is “don’t hope it happens, make it happen.” If you think of an idea but don’t begin having conversations, it only remains an idea. There are enablers like The SciTech Institute that can help not just believe in an idea but help make connections with others who will also see and believe in ideas to help move concepts to reality.