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Chandler’s Vice Mayor Rick Heuman Shares City’s Journey of STEM Collaboration
Guest Interviewer: Ann Marie Cunningham, for Arizona SciTech
Interviewee: Rick Heuman, vice mayor, Chandler, Arizona, which hosts Chandler Science Spectacular
How did you get involved in AZSciTechFest?
I went to Brooklyn Tech, long before Brooklyn became gentrified and hip. The high school’s neighborhood was severely economically deprived. I came out to Arizona in the 1970s to attend ASU. I liked the West, and I liked the fresh air.
Chandler is in the East Valley, along with Tempe and Mesa. There are now 1.7 million people in the East Valley. When I took office, Chandler didn’t have a fiduciary school district. I thought an education coalition between business and the schools would make sense, especially since we have two universities and community colleges in the East Valley.
The education coalition launched four years ago, right before AZSciTechFest. Jeremy came to see us, and talked about how the Fest could be a tool for economic development as well. Cities could showcase what they do best, and we want to teach kids to be problem-solvers.
Southwestern Arizona is known as “Silicon Desert,” and education is strongly tied to economic development here. Our large high-tech industry can’t stay in our state if the labor force isn’t here.
So Chandler’s mission is two-fold. First of all, we want people to understand STEM. Secondly, we want them to understand that STEM is involved in every aspect of their lives, especially careers — even if they just work in an office on a computer.
What does the Chandler Science Spectacular involve?
We are a two-day event. The last couple of years, Intel has been a sponsor. We keep all events in a concentrated geographic area, so people don’t have to drive. There is as much for kids as possible. It’s all free.
The first year, on opening night, four or five local high-technology and microchip companies opened their doors to any and all visitors for the first time. They had something like 11,000 employees, but on that night, what they did was open to all. Everyone could see what they did, and how they did it.
On Friday, we hold an Art Walk, focusing on the science of art. That’s the largest event we have right now. There are sculptural welding and glass blowing demos – lots of technology involved. In Chandler, we do have the Center for the Arts, which schools use during the day.
Tempe held a terrific event on the art and science of baseball. I played for ASU’s baseball team and never had a free weekend, so that was very important to me.
Saturday is devoted to schools and business. There’s a six-hour fair that involves 60 companies and all the local schools and colleges. Everything is hands-on, from rockets to forensics. Everyone loves hands-on. We had the U.S. Army last year, and we want the Air Force this year, with all their resources.
Last year, we tied the Science Spectacular to the car show, which was held downtown. It’s important to utilize what you have; don’t reinvent the wheel. On Saturday, we got 10,000 people. Usually the car show draws 1,000 to 5,000 people per day.
What’s the best way for a start-up science festival to emphasize STEM’s importance to economic development?
You’re a convenor, an aggregator of STEM content. You need buy-in on the electoral side. You need the school districts. Find out what each city does best. Then you go to the companies, and recruit them.
Meet with people who are already running festivals and farmers’ markets in the community. Find out what STEM ingredients you can bring to what they’re doing. They may be able to help you with marketing and budget.
Have one keystone event where everyone, all your partners, are doing something together – a fair, an expo, a science pavilion, something sparkly.