The Arizona SciTech Festival is entering its 10th year, a good time to look back on how we started and where we’re going.
The first festival launched with creative events like Geeks Night Out in Tempe, Science in Tucson and a display of giant, anatomically correct insects at Phoenix’s First Friday. But would anyone actually come? Thankfully, they did, and in amazing numbers for an inaugural festival. More than 200 events statewide celebrating all things STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) drew more than 230,000 people.
By 2020, the festival had grown to 6,000 events attended by 600,000 people. Arizona is now home to the third-largest STEM festival in the nation, which has inspired countless children to pursue careers in STEM.
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How did this happen? The festival is more than just an impressive array of events where you can build a rocket, experience river biology or gaze at the stars. While the SciTech Institute convenes the festival, most events are produced locally. For example, libraries sponsor more STEM events than any other type of institution.
What’s more, the festival is a convening place for Arizona’s STEM ecosystem. It’s an opportunity for teachers, professionals and industry leaders to meet, fly the STEM banner, and strategize how they can continue to build support for STEM and attract young people into the field.
Schools showcase their students’ work. Technology companies connect with their communities. Civic groups and economic development directors expand their reach. The festival helps connect the dots of our tech ecosystem, critical to the long-range goal of building a tech economy.
Going virtual gives us a farther reach
Most 2021 events will be virtual, which makes it more difficult — but not impossible — to provide hands-on experiences. Going virtual will create opportunities. Someone in Navajo County can enjoy a digital tour at Boeing or TGen without driving for three hours. Kartchner Caverns State Park can showcase cave science to someone in Buckeye or Kingman. We can link the state in ways we never considered before.
The partnerships developed by the festival boost the case for winning multimillion-dollar grants to help build rural STEM hubs. Partners can make the celebration of STEM more than a one-month festival and integrate it into their communities’ day-to-day activities.
Exciting futures are built by visionaries, which brings me back to reflecting on our early days. The festival would never have soared without the support of key partners, including:
- Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, who understood our vision and provided significant funding to launch the festival.
- Sandra Watson, president and CEO of the Arizona Commerce Authority, who believed the festival would provide important support for economic development efforts.
- Steve Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council, who provided mentorship and hundreds of introductions.
- Chevy Humphrey, then-president and CEO of the Arizona Science Center, who helped connect the festival to the STEM community, ensuring high scientific integrity.
- Eileen Klein, then-president of the Arizona Board of Regents, who saw the important link between celebrating science and showcasing research conducted at the state’s universities.
- My wife, Jennie Bever, who supported me and our family while putting in countless hours driving all over Arizona.
- Arizona’s leading tech companies, such as major supporters Cox Communications, Freeport-McMoRan, Intel, State Farm and SRP. This year, we welcome Zoom, a befitting nod to the virtual world in which we now live.
Jeremy Babendure is executive director of the SciTech Institute. Reach him at email@example.com.