System Support

by Don Rodriguez

An idea that’s good for Safford might be good for Globe. And it might even be perfect for Chinle. But without the right network to share that idea, it might just stay in Safford — or miss the opportunity to get even better with feedback from others.

This is an example of a scenario that the Arizona Technology Council and others supporting a STEM ecosystem are trying to prevent. For help, they have turned to the Legislature for assistance in cultivating learning and workforce development opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) through networks and hubs that leverage their assets, especially in rural and semi-rural areas.

Rep. Michelle Udall and House Majority Whip Becky A. Nutt are co-sponsoring HB2152 that would appropriate $3 million from the state general fund in fiscal 2021 to the Arizona Commerce Authority to administer a grant program charged with helping develop the hubs throughout the state. Supporters ideally would like to see annual funding for at least five years.

The measure already has started making its way through the state House of Representatives. At press time, it already was scheduled to be heard by the House Commerce Committee, and was assigned to the Appropriation and Rules committees.

Features of the bill include supporting:

     • Entities within a county that have an established network of cross-institutional partners from business, education, community and government;

     • Schools and school districts for the purpose of teacher training in STEM literacy;

     • Out-of-school programs charged with the cultivation of a community STEM network;

     • Higher education institutions that offer workforce development in STEM fields; and

     • Other entities that recognize the need for STEM competencies as recognized by the Authority.

The idea actually was developed as an offshoot of the recommendations developed in the 2018 White House State-Federal STEM Education Summit. Arizona was represented by Steven G. Zylstra, the Council’s president and CEO, and Sandra Watson, the Authority’s president and CEO. Both were appointed to speak for the state by Gov. Doug Ducey.

The summit’s resulting five-year plan included goals and pathways. The proposed Arizona bill supports a pathway designed to develop and enrich strategic partnerships. The focus of the pathway is to strengthen existing relationships and develop new connections between institutions, employers and their communities.

Some groups in Arizona already have been working on developing cross-institutional STEM collaborations that ultimately help improve the educational experience of students and family. But due to the separation of communities, one organization unknowingly may be working on the same objective as a group in another part of the state. Each may be tackling the same task — and challenges — but struggling to find success. By aligning knowledge and resources through shared hubs, they improve their chances for positive outcomes by connecting the dots together.

Support for shared ecosystems also can increase opportunities that can arise when applying for competitive grants at the national level. Federal sources, for example, are more likely to contribute funding to places with thriving STEM ecosystems.

Other states already have moved to support development of networks and hubs through funding approved by legislative action. Neighboring Utah, a state with a smaller population than Arizona, already has approved funding at levels higher than what has been proposed here.

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