Enterprising Minds

Students to serve their schools as chief science officers

by Don Rodriguez

For student Jessica Calfee, becoming the chief science officer at Chandler Early College is more than just something to add to her resume. Being part of an online-based program, students are missing out on support for such subjects as science, especially from outside organizations and companies. “I’m really interested in getting some fundamentals needed for our school to succeed,” she says.

Jessica will have the chance to help make a difference as one of the more than 120 Arizona middle and high school students participating in the pilot for the Chief Science Officer Initiative launched this year by the Arizona SciTech Festival. “All too often, we have workforce-related discussions and potentially the most important stakeholder is missing: students,” says Jeremy Babendure, the festival’s executive director. “The initiative is an effort to develop a voice for students in our state’s developing conversation about STEM and education.”

The nature of the chief science officer (CSO) position is to champion campus-wide engagement, interest and popularity of science and innovation, and serve as an ambassador to the external science and innovation community. By ensuring such opportunities reflect student body interest so they gain more positive traction on campus, each CSO will serve as the school’s point of contact to streamline the ability for science-based organizations to meaningfully connect with schools.

“I am most excited for this not for the position but because of the possibilities it carries to connect our community in a science-minded way while giving some of its ‘face’ to the next generation of scientists and engineers,” says Brendan Bogar, who will be CSO at Red Mountain High School in Mesa. “Connecting people together to make change or spread awareness in the field of science education is something I am greatly looking forward to.”

Overcoming Challenges

Initiative organizers realize all too often outside organizations are interested in working with schools but are challenged with changes in school leadership and teacher contacts, and evolving student interests. The CSOs will serve as the “voice” for their student body, identifying science-related opportunities such as guest speakers, workshops, field trips, science nights and clubs.

Support for the CSOs actually started at their respective schools, where the representatives were selected in elections. The school also pays a membership fee for each CSO to cover expenses of a summer retreat, cabinet meeting/excursions and on-site assistance from a team representing Festival organizers. Schools also agree to participate in evaluations of program outcomes.

Those outcomes will be as varied as the schools. For many of the CSOs, their roles will emphasize support of on-site STEM events and projects. Others will expand to collaborating with CSOs throughout the state, championing schools’ STEM engagement and partnerships with local STEM businesses, and interfacing with key Arizona business and community leaders.

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