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Chief Science Officers in D.C.



The Chief Science Officers program is providing a way for youth to be immersed in the development of educational science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities in and out of the classroom. Several CSOs from across the country attended the 2018 spring convening of the STEM Learning Ecosystems, offering student perspectives and learning more about how educational programs are formed and executed. Following are the perspectives of two of the CSOs (and their parents).

CSO Marissa:

As Chief Science Officer (CSO) for L. Thomas Heck Middle School and an eighth grader, being asked to travel to Washington D.C. to represent Arizona was exciting, but Iwas apprehensive as well. I had wrongly assumed she meant in the future when I was older. A couple days later I received a follow up email discussing dates and found that the trip was becoming very real. A few months later I was on a plane to D.C. to attend the STEM Ecosystem Conference and representing Arizona CSOs with fellow CSO Hayden, a junior attending Paradise Valley High School. With our amazing chaperone Kelly Greene, Director of Student Success for Arizona CSOs, and other STEM professionals, like Kaci Fankhauser, we had experiences that I am sure we will always remember.

On day one we headed to NASA Headquarters and talked with two STEM experts, both who had worked 35 plus years within NASA, as well had a personal meeting with Sandra Cauffman, Deputy Director at NASA with CSOs from Michigan and Oregon. Then after the meeting we attended the welcoming of the STEM Ecosystems of 2018 and broke out into sessions that gave both Hayden and I the chance to network with STEM organizations and businesses nationwide. It was very exciting to have so many adults there wanting to know my perspective on key STEM topics and initiatives. On the following Friday, I presented and lead my own session with other STEM professionals from programs like STEM2 Hub and shared my outlook on how fostering cross-sector relationships can lead to better solving the STEM awareness gap. Afterward, I opened for the next session about how K-12 Education can evolve to meet STEM needs. I personally felt I had a lot to contribute as the daughter of two public educators and surrounded by other family members working in the education force. As the conference came to a close, I felt more comfortable networking and had a greater understanding of the difference I can make through the CSO Program!

Marissa’s Mom, Jules:

Recently, my daughter, Marissa, was given an opportunity that is far beyond the reach of most 8th graders. She traveled to Washington DC to represent the Chief Science Officer program with fellow CSO Hayden and the Director of Student Success, Kelly Greene.  It was an opportunity to not only speak on behalf of the CSO program, but a chance to show leaders from several corporations, universities, and think tanks exactly what the youth of today can accomplish.

These two young ladies, as well as four other CSO’s from other states, were able to network with leaders from NASA, STEM2 Hub, and Ford Next Generation Learning. The girls were called upon to present several times, speaking with confidence and knowledge to a room of adult professionals from the STEM and education communities. Their speaking opportunities were often unplanned and intense, but the girls remained confident and self-assured. I am in awe of all they were able to accomplish in these few short days.

Since returning to Arizona, Marissa has sent many emails reaching out to the people she met, and she has continued to share her views and opinions on STEM and educational programs, as well as to invite others to experience the CSO program in their own states. I am sure this is just the beginning of her journey and it will be exciting to see how far she goes. I believe that, with Kelly Greene and the CSO program, the only limit is their imagination!


Chief Science Officers at NASA Headquarters

CSO Hayden:

As a Chief Science Officer for the State of Arizona, attending the STEM Ecosystem conference was the opportunity of a lifetime. I had such an unforgettable experience as a student, minority, and woman in STEM.

As a student, I learned just how invested people from all backgrounds are in STEM education. I spoke with educators from around the country who were seeking to improve their student involvement in STEM programs, and I spoke with businesses who were interested in providing opportunities for educators and students alike. I was really touched by the amount of passion each person at the ecosystem had for STEM education, and I was able to connect with these individuals by putting a face to the future of STEM.

As a minority, I asked questions about how to stay motivated when it feels like you’re all alone. I received an abundance of advice from many people at the event, and it really inspired me to stay strong and push forward out of my comfort zone. I believe that diversity is the key to a larger perspective, and this increased perspective makes sure that every person of every background is included in the STEM world. The people at the STEM Ecosystem believed the same. It was truly special to speak to all of these passionate individuals who brought so many different perspectives to the table.

As a woman, I felt the most support I have ever felt in a STEM setting. The breakout session leaders and keynote speakers were inspirational beyond belief, and as only a junior in high school, it was really special to be able to hear the success stories of each influential leader. I spoke with many powerful women that motivated me to keep on challenging myself and to not fear failure, but to learn from it.

I will always be grateful for such a special event, and I have grown and learned so much from the experience. I can honestly say that I will be able to utilize the connections and skills I gained from the conference for the rest of my STEM-filled education and career.

Hayden’s Mom, Cori:

My daughter, Hayden, CSO for Paradise Valley High School was fortunate enough to be selected to go to Washington, D.C. with fellow CSO, Marissa Nolte and their skilled chaperone, Kelly Greene. From Wednesday to Saturday their days were filled with amazing opportunities.

CSOs at the 2018 Community of Practice in Washington, D.C.

At the onset, they were able to connect with STEM officials at NASA Headquarters which included a special presentation on NASA weather satellites and a special interactive presentation with 27-year, Costa Rica-born, NASA satellite engineer, Sandra Cauffman. The following day they were able to take full advantage of the STEM Ecosystems conference, and they learned how they can continue to impact STEM education from their roles as Chief Science Officers. They learned about political programs that can lend support and sustainability to their efforts at their local schools and communities. Moreover, they were able to present about real issues facing STEM education in Arizona. Hayden was able to network like a true professional and had much success through a discussion at the conference about women in STEM and how they have dealt with setbacks in their careers. Her eyes were opened to the possibilities of being part of the STEM Ecosystems solution by creating valuable networks that support students and their mission to bring about change in education for Arizona students.

The girls also spent time outside the conference, getting to know the sights and rich history of our nation’s capital. They visited the national zoo, where Hayden snapped pictures of the bison, and later told me the story of the 70 billion bison that were slaughtered in the American west as she had recently learned in her U.S. History class. She also visited the Korean War Memorial, the Lincoln and Washington Memorials and the Holocaust Museum, where she learned of the intimate stories of the children’s drawings before they were sent to the gas chambers. After being there in this place of government, her eyes were opened to the real difference she would like to make as a young woman in STEM today. Her role as a CSO has changed as a result of this conference. For example, she will be attending the Aerospace Phoenix Workforce Meet Up so she can be a part of bringing more industry solutions to the Valley of the Sun.

Kelly showed these young women the world and allowed them to ask questions and immerse themselves in the experience. Her military background gave the girls a unique experience and allowed for them to see this part of the world and those who have fought for this nation in a special light. She was an outstanding chaperone and continued communication with us parents throughout the trip. She is a true teacher and enhanced every part of their detailed experience.

From a parent’s perspective, the CSO Washington, D.C. experience was one of a kind. I am so grateful that Hayden not only was exposed to the rich, cultural mecca of Washington D.C., but also was allowed to take her role as CSO to the next level. She has already continued communication with STEM Ecosystem partners that will allow her to enhance the STEM-centric focus at PVHS and in the larger Phoenix community. I am deeply appreciative to the CSO Program for this excellent, scholastic opportunity.

Learn more about the CSO program and how to bring it to your area here.