Marti Canipe, Assistant Professor: Department of Teaching and Learning

Research has shown that people often have stereotypical views of what a scientist looks like and what they do.  For many people, especially young people this view is of a “mad scientist” with wild eyes, white hair sticking up all over their heads, wearing a lab coat, and holding bubbling flasks.  This person is also almost always male.  In recent years projects like “I Am a Scientist” ( have been working to broaden people’s conceptions not only of what scientists look like, but also what they do.  

Representation matters and young people can be inspired to pursue STEM careers when they see and interact with people who look like them who are STEM professionals.

In Northern Arizona, the Flagstaff Festival of Science supports a program that matches local STEM professionals with K-12 classrooms. The classroom speaker program allows teachers to request a classroom presentation from a wide variety of STEM professionals who have volunteered their time.  These visits offer K-12 students the opportunity to meet scientists who may work in a lab, but who also work out in field sites and represent a variety of different contexts including corporations, government agencies, non-profits, and educational organizations.  In addition to a broad range of work contexts, these scientists showcase the diversity of people who work in these fields.

The work of STEM professionals often involves complex and sophisticated ideas that may be hard to translate for a young audience.

This year, the Flagstaff Festival of Science offered a workshop for classroom presenters to help support them in translating their work for K-12 classrooms.  The workshop was led by Festival Board Member, Dr. Marti Canipe who is an Associate Professor of Science Education at Northern Arizona University.  In the workshop, Dr. Canipe shared some basic principles of science teaching and what can be expected with students in different age groups.  Key ideas included sharing how the science is connected to everyday experiences that students may have had and offering opportunities to have an experience related to the science topic rather than just listening to the scientist talk about their work.  Attendees then worked together to brainstorm ideas about how to make their work accessible for different age groups.  

One area that was a particular focus was how to share with younger (K-2) students in a way that is engaging.  At first this can seem daunting given the complexity of the work that STEM professionals engage in every day.  However, with some helpful tips and guidance the participants in the workshop were able to come up with engaging activities for young students inspired by their day-to-day work.

The ultimate goal for the classroom speaker program is to connect STEM professionals with K-12 classrooms and to make those visits something students remember as the day when a cool scientist came to visit their class and hopefully inspire the next generation of STEM professionals.