10 Years – and Counting

by Don Rodriguez

Anyone with a 10-year-old daughter or son probably has heard this reaction when the child walks into the room: “(He/she) has grown so big — and so fast!”

Jeremy Babendure can relate. When he set out to pull together an entire state for a celebration of science and technology with the inaugural SciTech Festival in February 2012, Babendure was just hoping some people would show up to participate let alone stage the roster of events.

It turns out the festival director and the collaborators who also supported this new project needn’t have worried. More than 200 events statewide drew more than 230,000 people in that first year. Fast forward to 2020 when the ninth SciTech Festival exploded to 6,000 events attended by 600,000. 

Since its launch, the festival’s more than 900 partners have engaged hundreds of thousands of attendees to participate in events in more than 80 Arizona cities and towns. 

As a result, countless children have been inspired to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM, the term that has become better known since the first festival. More than that, the events and activities have provided individuals of all ages the opportunity to experience STEM firsthand and see how it impacts their lives.

The festival also has grown into a convening place for the state’s STEM ecosystem. “It’s an opportunity for teachers, professionals and industry leaders to meet and strategize how to build support for STEM and attract young people into the field,” says Babendure, now executive director of the SciTech Institute.

SciTech Institute is a nonprofit organization working to enhance and promote STEM awareness and engagement in Arizona and beyond. While the festival has come to be known as a signature event and the third-largest STEM festival in the nation, the SciTech Institute also has given birth to other well-known programs, such as the Chief Science Officers.

Helping provide support along the way have been foundation partners including the Arizona Technology Council, Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Science Center, Arizona State University, The University of Arizona and Arizona Board of Regents.

Such support enabled festival No. 10 to occur in February as it continued to inspire interest and build knowledge of STEM in Arizona. “The 2021 festival season offered an incredible opportunity to both celebrate the past and embrace the future,” says Kelly Greene, chief operations officer of the SciTech Institute.

Even the effects of COVID-19 didn’t stand in the way of the state coming together, although at a distance. “Organizers took advantage of the ‘virtual’ reality that arose in response to the pandemic and worked to support the festival’s collaborators and events as a fusion of online and in-person approaches,” Greene says.

This year’s lineup included:

  • More than 200 free virtual events in February,
  • STEM professional career panels,
  • Virtual tours,
  • How-to videos featuring Q&A with experts, and
  • Interactive activities

In addition, presentations were conducted in English, Spanish and American Sign Language. The festival also leaves a legacy marked by a recorded content library that now counts more than 5,000 resources.

While others might have put the festival on hold this year, that didn’t happen in Arizona. “We saw the silver lining in how current challenges will push us to grow as a community and work creatively together,” Babendure says.

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