STEMAz is a statewide organization focused on expanding student access to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. The STEM initiative is working to get these subjects more integrated into schools across Arizona.
Jose Cardenas: Good evening, and thank you for joining us. The science foundation Arizona also known as SFAZ, is a nonprofit organization created by business leaders to position Arizona as a leader in high-paying engineering and science jobs. Part of that mission is to help the state do a better job preparing students for careers in math and science. The initiative, called stem, was launched to enhance and encourage students to learn science, technology, engineering, and math in schools across Arizona. Joining me is Jaime Molera, member of the advisory council for the stem education initiative at science foundation Arizona. He is also on the state board of education. Welcome back to "Horizonte." You've been here many times on a variety of subjects. You're a former superintendent of education, so I know this is a subject near and dear to your heart. Give us a little more background than we got on the introduction about the stem initiative.
Jaime Molera: Well, the stem initiative was created under Governor Napolitano, as part of the Arizona science foundation. And its main mission is simple -- to get more students better prepaired for science and mathematics. And its whole mission was to increase standards and increase awareness, help teachers better prepare their students, help parents better understand what they need to do. So it was a multi-pronged effort on that area. And one of the things that I think is critical right now is that we're seeing nationally is that the United States is starting to fall behind in producing scientists, mathematicians, engineers, and one of the things we have to recognize is that it's the pipeline that has to be primed. We have to do a better job of recognizing, starting at an early age. How do we need to get students better prepared, how do we need them to understand how relevant it is to them, because a lot of students will say, what does this have to do with what I'm going to do in the future, making them recognize career choices available to them, and some of the changes that are taking place in our economy where in the next 10 years economists are saying, you're going to see a growth of about 20% in this whole industry, in science, mathematics, engineering, technology. So that's important for students to understand, but most importantly it's important for educators to look at what we're doing now and how do we better prepare students, and teachers, and schools for that effort.
Jose Cardenas: Well, of course some of this is stuff you would have been dealing with both in your career as the superintendent of public instruction a few years ago, and now on the state word of -- board of education. How do you answer that relevance question in ways that are different from what you've already been doing for so many years?
Jaime Molera: Well, one of the things that we have to be honest with ourselves as to where we are. There's a couple of statistics that are fairly telling. Only 30% of students that take the act in this past class of 2009 were ready for college-level science. So only three in 10 students in Arizona were ready to take what they needed to be prepared in order to advance to the college level. Respectively, with fourth and eighth graders in science, we ranked 41st and 37th in those areas. In math, we ranked 43rd and 38th respectively between fourth and eighth graders in mathematics. So we have to recognize, look. We have some issues. And we're falling behind. And one of the things we can do, if we're serious about our students being able to reach those high levels of academic achievement, we have to recognize that we have some obstacles to overcome. And one of the things we need to do is start at a very early age of recognizing how do we start to better prepare students? How do we hold schools more accountable? How do we prepare teachers? How do we get teachers into the classroom through alternative certification and through ways that we can entice folks that right now might be looking for other career paths? So all of those things play into how we need to make sure that this is a focus of our state.
Jose Cardenas: Stem's been in existence for about two years now. Give us some idea of the kinds of things that stem has done to fulfill the missions that you just outlined?
Jaime Molera: One of the things that I have always believed is that when people think about science and mathematics, they think about chemistry class, or calculus class or precalculus class,or an algebra class, where they get lectured to and they have to learn formulas, and it's very boring. I think educators around state are recognizing, how do you make education relevant to students, how do you make them understand this is part of our lives? This is part of jobs in the future. I was up in Show Low last week, where Navajo county had this wonderful effort where they're taking their wetlands, where all of their sewage and sanitation departments are making it into essentially a massive lab for their students in science and mathematics. Where they're showing them the connection --
Jose Cardenas: we have a picture of that on the screen.
Jaime Molera: So they're seeing the connection, and they've seen it, they're touching it, they're feeling it. It makes it relevant for them. And that's something that is exciting about this effort. This is not just a boring subject, this is something they can be relevant for them and they start to recognize early on how important this is. And they can actually do it. When they can -- these wetland examples show, when they can apply those formulas to something that they're actually doing, and so they can see that they can make these kinds of equations, and it makes long-term predictions as to what's going to happen to the environment, if we continue to introduce pollutants into the area. Then these kids start to have a passion and they start to have a feeling as to hey, I can actually predict these things, but actually I can also start to do something about it. So it's a pretty exciting thing to be a part of.
Jose Cardenas: Let's talk a little bit about how stem actually functions. We know it's headed by one of governor Napolitano's former top advisors, what does it do? How does it relate with science foundation Arizona, and the state board?
Jaime Molera: One of the things they've done is done a tremendous job of leveraging private dollars. So they've been able to get about $1.5 million to give them their core funding. And they've been able to use that to then attract money that we pass through, the state board of education, $2.5 million, that goes directly then to grant programs throughout the state. This year alone will impact over 50,000 students, close to 700 teachers around Arizona. There are also -- they're also loose ball can at getting other types of grants. The stimulus monies that are coming into Arizona, and various other dollars that they have a core base of funding they have been able to use private dollars from, now they're using these other resources to get money to directly to the school and maximizing monies to teachers.
Jose Cardenas: How much are we talking about in terms of science foundation Arizona's contribution?
Jaime Molera: They've been able to raise $1.5 million. And they're looking at getting --
Jose Cardenas: that was freeport Macmaran?
Jaime Molera: Yes.
Jose Cardenas: Science foundation is $3.8 million?
Jaime Molera: $3.8 million. Hopefully we've been able to use some of that money, because of the budget constraints, we have a lot of issues as to whether or not --
Jose Cardenas: is stem in fact impacted by the disputes right now in the funding for signs foundation Arizona?
Jaime Molera: Yes, it is. It's part of the whole $25 million that was whether or not they can leverage those monies. Hopefully we'll be able to convince the powers that be that this is a tremendous investment. Not just in priming the pump and getting schools better prepared in math and science, but all of the research efforts that stem is trying to do to help our economic development in Arizona.
Jose Cardenas: As I understand it, the target group of young students are rural, Latino, and Native American. What has stem done to address the needs of those particular populations?
Jaime Molera: Well, one of the things that we have talked about at the state board level is to say, when you talk about high levels of mathematics and science, it's not just for kids that live in a particular area of the state. We should have a mind-set that regardless of where a student livers, whether they grow up in Nogales, or south Phoenix, south Tuscon, or in Paradise Valley or scottsdale, we should have high academic standards we're going to hold them to. And we're going to hold the schools to. But we also have to recognize the resources that schools have available is disproportionate. Some schools, because they have the resources, they can do bonds, they can do overrides, have the equipment, have the facilities have the training for the teachers that are readily available to meet those needs. And rather than lowering the bar so that it makes it easier for kids to jump over, let's keep a high bar, but let's put the resources that we need for professional development, for training, for the kinds of equipment, for the kinds of lab experiments that are needed, these wetland facilities for instance, let's give them the resources in these areas they may not have access to locally, but we can provide in order to get them up to speed so kids aren't going to be at the end of the day they're not going to be short shifted.
Jose Cardenas: On that note we'll have to end the interview. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte."
Jaime Molera: Thank you.
Jaime Molera: Advisory Council, STEM Education Initiative at Science Foundation Arizona and member of the State Board Board of Education;