Office of Education

Arizona is National Model for Empowering Students in STEM and Innovation

By Dr. Jeremy Babendure, Executive Director, Arizona SciTech Festival Initiative
Friday, Oct. 28, 2016

 An Arizona SciTech program that empowers students to become ambassadors for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education and events is becoming so popular that the White House said it has the potential to be a blueprint for communities across the country. The Chief Science Officers (CSOs) initiative was launched last year by Dr. Jeremy Babendure and his team at Arizona SciTech, a program housed at the Arizona Commerce Authority. It’s the first of its kind in the U.S. in which 6th- to 12th-grade students are elected by their classmates to be liaisons to the community and private industry for STEM. The Chief Science Officers is a joint initiative of the Arizona Commerce Authority and the Arizona Technology Council Foundation and supported by the Governor’s Office of Education.
CSO Blog

“The Chief Science Officers program is an innovative, Arizona-grown model that we believe will transform the STEM climate,” said Arizona Governor Ducey. “We are so proud to be leading the way in producing leaders, as well as developing a model that others can use to be a catalyst for STEM education in their communities.”

The program’s key players, along with some lucky students, have met twice in recent months with White House science and technology advisors to discuss the program, including a July visit to Arizona by U.S. Chief Technology Officer and assistant to the President, Megan Smith. Smith, a former Google executive, told the audience at Grand Canyon University that Arizona SciTech, the CSO students and the companies that are supporting the program, is a “model that could be really important to the future of our country. You guys are the founders of this idea.”

CSO Blog

Those in attendance included community leaders from more than a dozen regions across the country interested in modeling their own CSO chapter after Arizona’s. Babendure said at least 10 regions nationally are working to start CSO programs next year, including San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, Southern Oregon, Illinois, Michigan, Western New York, Eastern New York, Tampa Bay and Washington D.C. He said the program has even had interest from people in Mexico, China and Israel.

The CSO students are science ambassadors who identify and help organize STEM opportunities for their schools, such as speakers, workshops and field trips, as well as empowering them to be a passionate and respected voice for STEM in their community. The students are paired with business and community mentors who support them with expertise and guidance.

“STEM education is critical to developing a workforce pipeline that meets the needs of businesses in today’s knowledge economy,” said Sandra Watson, Arizona Commerce Authority President and CEO. “The Chief Science Officers initiative is unique in that it puts students in charge of inspiring interest in STEM curriculum in their schools, teaching them valuable leadership and strategy skills in the process.” 

CSO Blog

What sets the CSO program apart from teacher-driven programs is the student perspective. These students see first-hand what is inspiring them, and they’re also looking down the road at the skills they’ll need to be competitive in a global economy.

“There is a mind shift that is happening and important in the business community. Previously, students haven’t been engaged in conversations about education and workforce. However, the unique perspective they provide, plus the experience they gain through working with their peers, is really valuable,” Babendure said. “We recognized that it’s critical to get the students involved, and so we created this program.”

The inaugural 2015-16 Arizona class had 138 students elected from 78 schools. The number of CSOs has increased to 250 students representing 110 schools this school year. Babendure said he expects Arizona to reach 1,000 CSOs in a few years. 

CSO Blog

Given those growth rates and national interest, Babendure envisions a “national cabinet” of 50,000 student CSOs across the country that can be vehicles to link STEM education to their peers.

“This brings science into the realm of what students believe is important and really empowers them to choose to be that liaison,” he said.

* Visit our Chief Science Officers page for more information on the program.

Dr. Babendure

Dr. Jeremy Babendure is the Executive Director of the Annual Arizona SciTech Festival Initiative and Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona. The annual festival includes over 450 collaborators, 500 events and draws over 300,000 participants. Prior to his work in Arizona, Jeremy received his doctorate in the lab of recent Nobel Laureate, Dr. Roger Tsien at the University of California, San Diego developing molecular sensors for the detection of RNA. Following this work, he and Roger launched the ScienceBridge program as mechanism to bring current science to the San Diego schools annually impacting 200 teachers, 20,000 students, and 60,000 community members and attaining 12M+ in national grants.


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