A team of educators providing STEM support to American Indian and Hispanic students has won a $600,000 challenge grant from the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona.
Gerardo Lopez, assistant extension specialist in the UA School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences, leads the team in partnership with the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, Sunnyside Unified School District, Pima Community College and Pima County 4-H Youth Development.
The project, STEM RISE Arizona, encourages students to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics through "project-based learning activities that are culturally relevant to their backgrounds, pulling from their personal experiences and relating it to environmental issues that are faced in the Southwest," Lopez said. Team members focus on creating culturally relevant STEM support programs and mentorship for K-12 students in predominantly American Indian and Hispanic schools.
The challenge grant calls on interdisciplinary teams of UA and community members to create systemic and transformational changes for society and the environment. The grant funds one project for up to $200,000 per year for three years.
"The Haury program's panel of judges selected this great project because it embodies the values of social justice and education, which were very close to Mrs. Haury’s heart," said Anna Spitz, who directs the Haury program. "STEM RISE promises to incorporate environment, social justice and cultural elements into effective education through authentic collaboration between dedicated UA and community members."
The two other finalists for the competitive award were a team led by Cody Sheehy, film editor in the UA Controlled Environment Agriculture Center, that focused on sharing video success stories of sustainable fishing practices in the Gulf of California, and a team led by Jan Holder of the Tucson Audubon Society that focused on developing water management tools for communities in Southern Arizona's San Pedro River basin.
Each of the finalists made a 10-minute presentation April 25 at the UA's Environment and Natural Resources 2 building before a panel of judges in the overflowing Agnese Nelms Haury Lecture Hall.
Parents, teachers and students from affected schools were present for the STEM RISE Arizona presentation. Charlene Martinez attended San Xavier Mission School and came to the presentation with her youngest son, who is a student at the school now.
"He's all about science. For this program to come at a time when he's excited about science, I was so glad that this would benefit him," Martinez said.
The evening program also included the unveiling of the UA's newest piece of public artwork, which now hangs above the lecture hall entrance.
Diana Liverman, a Regents' Professor in the UA School of Geography and Development, first suggested an art piece to enhance the space and to encourage public art on campus.
The artwork, titled "Coalescence," was designed and created by local artist Troy Neiman through funding from the Haury Foundation and partnership between the Arts Foundation for Tucson and Southern Arizona and the UA.
Rippling metalwork in the art installation mimics the interactions of wave patterns after droplets hit the surface of a pool. For the piece, Neiman created 52 individual aluminum fins to create the effect of the rippled surface. He cut each fin with a water jet.
"The installation reflects the way that ideas travel and the way they bump up against other ideas," said Ellen McMahon, a professor in the UA School of Art and a member of the art committee that selected Neiman’s concept. "It has associations with community, with nature, with the droplet in the larger body of water, so I feel it's really appropriate for the Haury mission for social and environmental justice."