By Michelle Talsma Everson

The 2015-2016 school year marks the debut of the Chief Science Officer (CSO) program in the state of Arizona. With the motto of “transforming the voice of discovery and innovation,” the program has 90 schools with 130 elected CSOs participating statewide. So, what is a CSO?

“A Chief Science Officer or ‘CSO’ is a 6th to 12th grade student elected by their peers to represent their school in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and innovation,” cites the program’s official website, www.chiefscienceofficers.org.

Each CSO has several duties on and off campus. While in school, the elected CSO helps serve as the campus’ “STEM voice,” identifying STEM opportunities for their school that reflects their peers’ interests. “They will serve as the school’s external point of contact and streamline the ability for the STEM-based organizations to meaningfully connect with their school,” adds the CSO website.
Off campus, CSOs serve as STEM ambassadors to the community; communicating events, building partnerships, advocating future opportunities with local businesses and industry leaders. In addition to several other duties, “they will team will their CSO peers as part of a state-level cabinet,” according to the website.

The goal of the CSO program is to promote STEM directly to the students themselves, instead of targeting educators, administration and curriculum.
“In contrast, empowering students to self-select their own student voice in STEM will not only bridge more experiences CSOs and their identify with but lead to stronger student support and engagement of such opportunities, especially since the CSO was inherently voted in by their peers,” explains a program spokesperson.

Benefits to each CSO include online profiles and published blogs, potential college credit for participating, scholarship and internship opportunities, a standout student portfolio, connecting with other students, and more. Each CSO participates in both summer and fall programming, too.

“I think that being a CSO is to be able to be a voice to our school and help promote STEM and science as much as possible in our school,” says Brendan, a 12th grade CSO at Red Mountain High School. “…I try to lead by example and incorporate people into fields that they usually aren’t into to be able to expose them to the different STEM opportunities in our school. Through student council and robotics I have been able to incorporate more science related things into our school.”

How many kids does this program anticipate impacting? According to program officials, it is anticipated that 1,300 students will be directly impacted this year with 7,000-35,000 indirectly impacted through CSO related programming.

“Science is the future and the past. Being able to understand this and knowing how to implement it is essential for humanity,” adds Juan, a 12th grade CSO at Metro Tech High School. “…One of the best moments I’ve had as a CSO was being able to plan a spirit STEAM Week for my school. Seeing students participate in events related to STEAM was truly rewarding.”

To learn more about the Chief Science Officer program, visit www.chiefscienceofficers.org.

Meet Some of This Year’s Chief Science Officers

There are more than 130 elected CSOs for the 2015-2016 school year. In addition to Brendan and Juan, here are just a few who shared their stories with us.

CSO Jaymee
8th grader at Kenilworth Elementary School in Phoenix
Teacher: Mrs. Stryker

What made you want to get involved in the program?
I wanted to get involved in this program because I love science and I just wanted to get more involved in science at my school.

What does being a Chief Science Officer mean to you?
Being a CSO means I am in charge of how we learn science and I get to make science fun even for people that don’t like science.

Why do you think it’s important for today’s students to be involved in science?
Now jobs are getting more science based. For those that want to make money, that’s where the money’s at! Coding, astronomy and many other sciences. And, it’s fun!

Do you plan to incorporate STEM into your future career paths?
Yes! I want to be a psychologist or a neurologist. It will have a lot to do with brain sciences.

How do you influence other students to be interested in STEM education?
I influence them by asking questions in class to get them thinking.

CSO Dhruv
11th grader at Hamilton High School
Teacher: Mrs. Nipar

What made you want to get involved in the program?
My science teacher, Mrs. Debbie Nipar, told me about the program. After learning more about it, I decided to apply.

What does being a Chief Science Officer mean to you?
Being a CSO means networking with people to connect our schools, local industry and government to increase STEM awareness in our community. So far, our team has the support of our school principal and we are working with our mentor from Orbital ATK to introduce new science enrichment programs in our school district. In the future, we plan to contact city and local government to raise awareness for the importance of STEM in our community.

Why do you think it’s important for today’s students to be involved in science?
Students should be involved in science because the global economy is steadily become more science and technology oriented. Students should look into careers in STEM to best prepare themselves for the new global job market.

Do you plan to incorporate STEM into your future career paths?
Absolutely! I especially see myself going into tech entrepreneurship.

How do you influence other students to be interested in STEM education?
I got interested in engineering because I always had fun with it. So to get my friends interested, I tell them about things like FIRST robotics, a high school competition that turns engineering into a sport. I also show them nifty electronics like Arduinos and Raspberry Pi Boards, which can be used to make doorbells, cellphones, and drones.
At its heart, science is curiosity. Scientists ask questions about what they see around them. To really get interested in science, students just have to start questioning everything.

CSO Reagan
7th grader at Kenilworth Elementary School
Teacher: Mrs. Stryker

What made you want to get involved in the program?
What made me want to join this program is because I like science and I knew we would be dealing with STEAM. I have done STEAM activities at Grand Canyon University and I was really interested.

What does being a Chief Science Officer mean to you?
It means that I can teach kids the beauty of science. And to teach them about science, it is not just for “nerds.”

Why do you think it’s important for today’s students to be involved in science?
Because most jobs involve science and when kids know how fun science is, the more fun kids will have.

Do you plan to incorporate STEM into your future career paths?
Yes, I have three jobs in mind; veterinarian, astronomer and an obstetrician. They all incorporate science in some way.

How do you influence other students to be interested in STEM education?

I influence them by telling them about the fun in STEAM projects and what can be done with STEAM to make them more interested.

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