When it comes to a fact-finding trip for members of Congress, that often can mean they pack their passports and head off to exotic lands for meetings with heads of state. For the representative of Arizona’s 3rd District, the destination was Estrella Mountain Community College in Avondale to meet with front-line experts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva met 55 members of the Chief Science Officers (CSOs) Program who are 6th through 12th grade students in schools in the West Valley, which is part of the congressman’s district. The intent of the ongoing CSO program is to have the students take the lead in staging STEM events at their schools.
The early November meeting kicked off with a welcome and program overview from Jeremy Babendure, founder of AZ SciTech Festival and the CSO Program. Five CSOs from Avondale Elementary School District then provided Grijalva and the others outlined the STEM climate in their schools, including how their new roles have helped them to advocate for STEM education.
The congressman shared with the students his reasons for learning more from their perspectives. “My parents didn’t come from a lot of money, so for me the school was it. And that gave me the tools and the ability to do other things with my life that if that hadn’t been there, this (career) wouldn’t have happened,” Grijalva says. “STEM education hasn’t been one of the things that I’ve concentrated on but that’s one of the things we’re going to be working on when I go back (to Congress), so you’re going to have to help educate me.”
Besides a session to brainstorm on STEM careers such as engineers, there also was a discussion on potential barriers that students face and potential solutions. The barriers included lack of money, family issues such as lack of support and pregnancy, introspection/self-assessments such as lack of confidence, school issues such as peer pressure, language barriers, learning disabilities and lack of role models.