By Nora Heston Tarte

Science is everywhere. From football to salsa, there is science behind just about everything that exists. The Arizona SciTech Festival, a state-wide celebration of science, technology, engineering and math, takes advantage of what they refer to as “sneaky science” to appeal to the masses and capitalize on partnerships throughout Arizona. The festival, which takes place annually during February and March, consists of a series of more than 400 expos, workshops, conversations, exhibitions and tours.

The programming is based mainly on STEM, an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering and math. More specifically, STEM refers to applying different methods of thought learned in the sciences, engineering, mathematics and technology fields to solve problems. Highlights for 2015 include learning about olden occupations like glassblowing at Student Days at the AZ Renaissance Festival in early March in Gold Canyon and all-ages booths at the Yuma Airshow on February 28.

The organization anticipates a shift to more STEM-related thinking in the workplace, which is why they encourage people to get involved and educate themselves now.
“STEM skills are and will become ever more important in the future workplace. This is why it is super important for the culture to ‘get’ its importance but also to see how STEM impacts all aspects of their lives,” says Dr. Jeremy Babendure, Ph.D., executive director of the festival.

Dr. Babendure’s own love affair with science began after a friend’s brother suggested he enroll in chemistry classes. Not only did the work fascinate him, but also it challenged him and he decided to pursue science as a career.

Several years and programs later, the veteran scientist has discovered a successful way to make science accessible by using people’s interests to spark a connection.
Having had a hand in ScienceBridge, a science-based program in San Diego, and the San Diego Science Festival, the Arizona expansion came easier than Dr. Babendure expected. Now in its fourth year, it continues to grow in a way Dr. Babendure doesn’t think would be possible just anywhere.

Support from Arizona Commerce Authority, Arizona Science Center, the Arizona Technology Council Foundation, Arizona Board of Regents, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, as well as the 450+ collaborators who have a hand in the event, make the festival a success.

“There is science, technology and innovation in everything we do,” Dr. Babendure says. And when Dr. Babendure says everything, he means it. It may be easy to envision the science behind sustainability and medical professions, both of which you can learn more about through festival-sponsored events (at The Sustival February 21); the science of baseball, however, (explored at Scottsdale’s Baseball City March 7-8) may be slightly more abstract.

As part of the festival, AZ SciTech sets up demonstrations all over Arizona that represents STEAM education, STEM plus the arts. One of the most popular events in the East Valley is Night of the Open Door – a signature Arizona State University (ASU) event. Night of the Open Door takes place on four ASU campuses on four different nights, with the largest being in Tempe on February 28, and creates an opportunity for the community to experience ASU’s blend of science, engineering, art and the humanities with a rare behind-the-scenes look at the school’s creative innovation.
Geeks Night Out is another AZ SciTech Festival event that blends common interests with science. Held next door to Phoenix’s ComicCon festival, attendees can take advantage of both events by visiting a world immersed in science fiction and then heading to Geeks Night Out to experience the science behind the fiction. The event celebrates the coolness of geeks while bringing together a diverse group of students and local professionals.

“What makes the festival platform so unique is it can be utilized as a way to get not only the usual suspects (STEM professionals) to showcase what they do, but also those that may not regularly think of themselves at STEM professionals to realize that they also utilize STEM skills in their professions,” says Dr. Babendure, citing artists, designers and medical professionals as part of this lesser-known group.

Another positive aspect of the festival is that it offers activities and learning opportunities for attendees of all ages. Adults will find many options for demonstrations and interactive science to captivate their attention while younger participants can join the hands-on activities available at many events.

A complete list of events can be found year round at azscitechfest.org.

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