Arizona SciTech Festival - AZ Business Magazine January/February 2012

SciTech Festival Spotlights Arizona As Growing Power In Science, Technology

Techno party: SciTech Festival will put spotlight on Arizona as a growing power in science and technology

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer says there is no better way to launch the state’s second century than by creating future leaders in industries that Brewer sees as crucial for the state’s economic vitality.

“Arizona is an emerging world leader for advances in aerospace, aviation and defense, semiconductor and electronics information technology, optics, life science, health science, renewable energy and telecommunications,” Brewer says. “Now, we must focus on ushering in the next generation of great scientific and technological leaders and must cultivate the scientific talents of all its students.”

To cultivate and inspire that talent, the Arizona Technology Council Foundation, Arizona State University and the Arizona Science Center have teamed up to create the First Annual Arizona SciTech Festival, a grass roots collaboration of more than 200 organizations in education and industry — including major employers like Microchip, Catholic Healthcare West, Raytheon and Orbital — designed to showcase how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) could drive the state’s economy over the next 100 years.

“The SciTech Festival will be the perfect way for Arizona to start rebranding itself around science and technology,” says Chuck Vermillion, chief executive officer and founder of Scottsdale-based OneNeck IT Services.

According to Jeremy Babendure, a biomedical scientist and director of the festival, officials expect more than 100,000 people to attend more than 300 festival-related activities that will take place throughout the state over a six-week period.

“I went through the Arizona school system and then went to ASU,” Babendure says. “But when it came time for me to engage in scientific research, I went out of state. This festival will show the next generation of Arizona scientists what is going on their back yard and show them that it is possible to stay in Arizona and engage in meaningful scientific work.”

Festival organizers hope to showcase the state as a national leader in science, technology, and innovation. Activities will include workshops, conversations, debates, exhibitions, concerts, and guided tours for young people and adults.

“The festival will offer a high-profile way for Arizonans to appreciate the rich base of sophisticated research and technology in our state,” says Sethuraman Panchanathan, deputy senior vice president and chief research officer at ASU.

In addition to the three founding partners, sponsors of the SciTech Festival include, Cox, Avnet, SRP, Boeing, the Arizona Commerce Authority, the Flinn Foundation, US Airways, DPR Construction, Maricopa Community Colleges, Creative Engine and the Helios Education Foundation, which committed $50,000 to the festival.

“By supporting the (festival), Helios believes more Arizonans will become aware of the role STEM plays in our economy,” said Dr. Jo Anne Vasquez, vice president and program director, Arizona Transition Years; Teacher and Curriculum Initiatives. “In order for Arizona to be a player in the new global economy, Helios supports educational initiatives that create a college-going culture with an emphasis on academic preparation in STEM education.”

Getting Arizona’s young people interested in science and technology at a young age is one of the primary goals of the SciTech Festival, says Chevy Humphrey, president and CEO of Arizona Science Center.

“The problem we are having now, is that many of the students in Arizona who are interested in the STEM subjects in school, aren’t staying here after they graduate,” Humphrey says. “We need to find a way to get students interested in science and technology at a younger age and figure out a way to keep our talented young people here. Once we do that, we will have a better chance of attracting great minds and great companies to our state.”

Having a solid resource of home-grown talent is a topic often raised by employers looking to move to Arizona, Panchanathan says.

And for companies like Microchip Technology Inc. in Chandler, a leading provider of microcontroller and analog semiconductors, the idea of inspiring students that could become part of a home-grown workforce is one of the benefits that will be derived from the festival for generations to come.

“This is the kind of thing that can start to change the culture and get young people excited about science and engineering,” says Michelle Ragsdale, senior public relations specialist for Microchip, which is participating in three SciTech Festival events. “They will get an opportunity to see how math, science and technology shape our lives. they will have the opportunity mingle with innovators who are making a difference. They will be able to say to themselves, ‘Hey, if I take science, I will be able to do this.’”

Babendure says festival events include a Tech Crawl in Chandler, the “Science of Baseball” in Scottsdale, the “Science of Chocolate” in Glendale, and the “Science of Galileo” as part of the Arizona Renaissance Festival. All of the events, Babendure says, are meant to get Arizona resident excited about science and technology.

“The festival is designed to help the public better understand the strong relationship between the state’s current, outstanding research and technology and the immense potential it offers for Arizona’s future,” said Steven G. Zylstra, president and CEO of the Arizona Technology Council. “State and local leaders … support this initiative as a powerful vehicle for leveraging productive synergy among stakeholders in the scientific, educational, and business communities leading to increased output of future innovators in STEM and resulting in more jobs and increased economic stability.”

Brewer agrees that celebrating science and technology with events like the SciTech Festival is “critical to raising student and public awareness of the impact science and technology have on our lives and to inspire the next generation of scientific leaders.”

One of the events that Microchip is excited to be involved with, Ragsdale says, is the FIRST Robotics Duel in the Desert on Feb. 18. At the duel, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) high school teams will hold a scrimmage testing out their robots for the upcoming FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) Arizona Regional. Those that watch the Duel in the Desert will get to meet the teams, talk to the teachers, and see the robots in action.

“Events like this will show young people that you don’t have to be a sports star or TV star to be famous,” Ragsdale says. “It will elevate the excitement about STEM education and open up a new world of opportunities for them.

“But in the bigger picture, the festival will put the focus on Arizona as a location and showing the world that we are paying attention to STEM education,” Ragsdale says. “Hopefully, companies will start to see Arizona not just as a place to come for the great weather, but because we are serious about creating and inspiring the next generation of innovators.”

For more information on the Arizona SciTech Festival and a complete schedule of events, visit azscitechfest.org.

Arizona Business Magazine January/February 2012