Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 7, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

STEM Education


  • The director of Science Foundation Arizona’s STEM Education Center (STEMAz) and a representative of one of the center’s major corporate sponsors talk about the importance of preparing Arizona students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Science Foundation Arizona
Guests:
  • Darcy Renfro - Executive Director, Science Foundation Arizona
  • Tracy Bame - Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold, one of the stem center's major sponsors


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Science foundation Arizona is a nonprofit organization created by business leaders to position Arizona as a leader in high-paying, science and engineering jobs. Part of that mission is to help Arizona do a better job preparing students for careers in science and math. Foundations stem Arizona center, or Stem AZ works tone Hance student learning in these subjects. Joining me is Darcy Renfro, executive director, and Tracy Bame, with Freeport McMoran Copper and Gold, one of the stem center's major sponsors. Thank you for joining us.

Tracy Bame:
Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Let's get a definition. Stem AZ, what are your goals?

Darcy Renfro:
Stem-AZ, science technology engineering and math. And the center was created in October by signs foundation Arizona to connect and leverage resources and efforts across the state in math, science, education. Enhance our earning potential or student earning potential, and student achievement in math and science so we can have a stronger base of workers to support and diversify the economy of Arizona.

Ted Simons:
Is there something special that you look for in terms -- science, engineering, math, technology, these kinds of things, they will what they are? How do you make them more attractive?

Darcy Renfro:
Well, you make them more attractive -- stem is -- it's about how to solve problems. How to provide -- solve problems in the real world. And stem B is about a way of thinking and a way of learning. And a way of applying -- you assume math and science is fundamental to that. But it's about problem solving and some of the -- creating solutions to some of the world's biggest problems. Energy shortages, banking and finance, all of that stuff you can find math and science. Stem is about science, technology, engineering, and math, but it's also about innovative ways of learning and thinking that gets students into -- more interest the in the world's challenges and how we're going to solve them.

Ted Simons:
As far as Freeport McMoran Copper and gold, why did the company decide to get involved in something like this?

Tracy Bame:
A couple of reasons. One is very close to our business; obviously we're trying to George Tenet build a pipeline of future workers for our own industry. A significant portion of our work force is made up of engineers. And so we have to have qualified employees -- qualified students graduating from programs that we can hire. And many it's interesting, when we talk to our business lead there's run our business currently, the challenge, one of the biggest challenges that keeps them awake at night is where are we going to find future employees? And we're in a bit of an economic recession now, but you can't sort of cut off the efforts to fill the pipeline. You've got to continue to invest. And we see stem -- the stem education center as a real capacity building effort for the state of Arizona. We support a range of different programs, but the challenge is you don't really know if those programs are being effective, there's no way to connect them together and really build a continuum that increases the quality of stem education. With see the center as being a vehicle for doing that.

Ted Simons:
The stem education center exists, but so do public schools. Are the schools not doing as well as they should?

Darcy Renfro:
There are a lot of great things happening in our schools, public schools and charter schools. The problem is, they're happening in pockets, and their individual efforts are affecting small groups of students and families and communities. So what we're trying to do is tie together those efforts and really build that capacity. So greater numbers and really build sort of a critical mass of really highly educated stem literate students across Arizona that can fill those jobs and help create more jobs that are going to be high-paying and high quality and can support companies like free port.

Ted Simons:
As far as industry is concerned, what are the greatest needs? What are you looking for as far as results from this kind of association?

Tracy Bame:
Well, I think we've just got to increase the quality of education. When people think about stem education, perhaps they associate it with higher learning, and the degreed professionals, but it's really across the board. We hire a large number of degree professionals with experience and engineering, but you have to think about people in the trade industries. And there's -- at the K-12 level, we've got to increase that quality. Darcy was talking about the concepts of critical thinking that are associated with stem disciplines and learning. We have to increase that quality because it's costing business millions of dollars in training, and retraining, when they graduate from high school and we hire them into trade positions or professional-level positions that you have -- having to do as a business that extra step that really public education and higher education should be doing.

Ted Simons:
It sounds like this particular country -- company wants to get involved. How difficult or is it a challenge to get other companies involved in something like this?

Darcy Renfro:
I think a lot of companies want to be involved. A lot of companies, whether you're Intel, or Freeport, depending, it could be in the high-tech sector or not, bank of America is another one of our supporters. Finance secretary recognized the fundamental importance of a strong math-science education. Companies really are eager to get involved, and it's about channeling that. It's a way that does create that critical mass. You do find a lot of companies doing individual things with individual districts or individual communities, and that's why support from an organization like free port has been able us to branch out statewide and start to build partnerships with other companies that can work at a statewide level and not just a community or school by school level. But really take this issue on as a statewide priority.

Ted Simons:
I was going to say, it sounds like something like an umbrella effort would really work. That's in proper

Darcy Renfro:
That's what stem AZ is. We enjoy a board of directors; we have an advisory council made up of individuals like Tracy and folks from the philanthropic center, college of education, provost at A.S.U, a whole group of folks interested and see the value. So we're bringing all of that knowledge together to create the critical mass and really make stem education a priority for Arizona.

Ted Simons:
For a mining company looking at engineers, high-tech this, sort of thing, some folks are probably thinking, you dig a hole in the ground, you take some stuff out, put the dirt back in the ground, move on. Why does mining in particular find this kind of a need?

Tracy Bame:
Mining has gotten more high-tech. So for the folks who are still associating it with a pick and axe, those days are long gone. And the mining industry has not only become very technically savvy and technically focused, that's -- it makes our business more efficient to look at things like that. But we're also look at reducing our environmental footprint. And that takes a high level of technological talent in the organization to figure out what are better ways of doing what we do. There's been a lot of strides made. Stem education is just as critical across the board for us in every job that we have. Because mining has become so high-tech, because we understand that we have a responsibility to do it in a responsible way, and help it support the sustainability of our communities, our country, and the world, really.

Ted Simons:
I understand there was an award now given out, innovation award.

Darcy Renfro:
Today we had our inaugural innovation heroes award. Contributions from the private and philanthropic sector, Intel and others funded the first few awards. We are recognizing teachers and students who are doing great things in math, science achievement in the state. Today we were at Peoria school district, liberty high school, and recognized a career tech education teacher who create add program for all high school students in the Peoria school district. So that's going to give those students a way of getting really excited about math and science. And they're doing this for engineering. Things like problems like, does a curveball curve or just look like a curve? That's what gets students excited. They're using math and science, and in a way that's interesting. We want to recognize people like Dr. Torbert at Peoria school district, but also other teachers. We'll be in Tucson next week and doing that throughout the year. And we are accepting nominations ongoing. You can find them at SFAZ.org.

Ted Simons:
Very good. Good stuff here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Darcy Renfro:
Thank you.

Tracy Bame:
Thank you.

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