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Northern Arizona Communities Demonstrate the STEM Wonders That Abound In Their Backyards
Guest Interviewer: Ann Marie Cunningham, for AZ SciTech
Interviewee: Jesus “Rudy” Rodriguez, administrative services general manager, Cottonwood, AZ
How did your job get you involved in AZSciTechFest?
I have a financial background, mainly in accounting. I moved to Cottonwood from Texas to become the City’s Finance Director, overseeing the budget, purchasing, and transit. When necessary, I sit in for the City Manager. Our Mayor wanted to get three northern Arizona communities involved in AZSciTechFest: Jerome, Sedona, and Cottonwood. The Festival fell in my lap!
How did that work out?
Last year, Jerome, which only has 350 residents, wasn’t involved. Neither was Sedona, which has red rocks and hiking trails and attracts many visitors. But Cottonwood saw what we could do! Our first year was really successful in bringing people together!
From Saturday to Monday of the AZSciTechFest, we had more than 1,000 Passports turned in. You had to go to at least six events and get your Passport stamped. At our high school auditorium, we had the most visitors: 600 kids.
There were two sets of prizes. The Passports went into a lottery, one for those under 21, and a second one for those over 21. The under-21 prizes were six tablets. The over-21 prizes were two baskets of local wine – we pride ourselves on our wine here – and a stay at a boutique hotel. This year, we’ll have more tablets, iPods, and other electronics as prizes.
My sons are 15 and 16, and they were at almost every event. (My daughter is 30 and works for a NASA contractor.) My 15-year old is a tinkerer; he wanted to be in front, asking questions. Some parents went to every event, too.
What kind of events did you have?
We emphasized the STEM involved in all aspects of running the City. For instance, we devoted Monday to a free public-safety event. The police and the fire department brought Hummers, robotics, infrared cameras – all their high-tech equipment.
Other partners were our airport and utilities. There was a Rover from Prescott College.
Our gas and electricity companies showed how they sort and monitor recyclables and land fill, and how they ship waste out. They demonstrated how e-waste can be reused.
At the high school, there was a big emphasis on STEM careers, in engineering, medical rehabilitation. There was 3-D printing. Students were demonstrating a wave machine!
What are your plans for 2015?
Cottonwood is known as “the commercial hub of the Verde Valley.” Certainly we have all the big chain stores, like Walmart and Home Depot. But I’ve lived here 15 years, and I didn’t know that several world-class companies are located here: Embry-Riddle, Guardian Air, laser light, molding graphics and plastics, several engineering companies. Since the festival, now I’m aware of these companies, and I see them all over the place. We tend to drive the same streets every day, and take things for granted.
The schools have been very responsive. This year, we’ll have a Science Week, where kids can show off their STEM projects to a bigger audience. We didn’t involve the arts last year. We’re at the planning stage now to do that. The schools will take the lead, since they have arts programs, both manual and digital. Cottonwood is a literary place. We have 15 or 20 local authors and the public libraries hold authors’ forums. It would be easy to involve them.
And of course, we want to encourage Jerome and Sedona to hold events in their own communities.
What will you do differently?
Last year, I had a hard time delegating because I wanted to get things done. I took on too much—the Passport, flyers, posters, everything!–,and at one point, I had to take some time off so I wouldn’t collapse with exhaustion. Don’t work your fingers to the bone. Set up a committee, make sure the members have specific assignments, and let them get things done.