COTTONWOOD – The Rural Innovation and Activation Network (RAIN) grant will allow the Verde Valley’s Rural Innovation Center help promote science, technology, engineering and math through informal STEM education. The funding amount is $50,000 per year over the next four years.
The Verde Valley RIC will be one of four to receive the grant, with each rural innovation center located in a key geographic, economic and cultural hub within Arizona.
According to the grant proposal, large-scale informal STEM educational programs in Arizona have been metropolitan-oriented. “Primary target audiences are youth, families and the general community, emphasizing latin@ and Native American groups. Through multiple tiers of engagement, the 4-year RAIN project has the potential to reach ~60,000 people,” according to the grant proposal.
“This isn’t just about the children – it’s about promoting STEM to the whole community,” said Diane Joens, former Cottonwood mayor and the rural champion named in the proposal. “Why promote STEM in rural areas? Well, jobs. Everything we do is related to STEM. Wine-making, working on motorcycles, restaurants – what do we do that’s not involved?”
One organization that has been included throughout the application of the grant is the Verde Valley SciTech Festival, which has been a yearly event in the Verde Valley since 2014. The SciTech Festival planning committee has looked into expanding events year-round, while also keeping a focus on the main festival dates. The committee will be holding a meeting Aug. 23 at 10 a.m. for public planning of the festival and for those interesting in volunteering.
Other groups that will be involved with promoting STEM with the RAIN grant will be Yavapai College and Mingus Union High School. “Every school that has their event or giveaway, they can apply to the RAIN group,” said Rudy Rodriguez, a member of the SciTech Festival planning committee.
According to Alexandra Helm, administrative coordinator at Yavapai College, the college has been a community partner in the annual SciTech Festival since its inauguration. For the last four years, the Verde Valley Campus has hosted the Verde Valley SciTech Expo along with the Town of Clarkdale, a signature SciTech Festival event, and was held at the close of the week-long Verde Valley SciTech Festival activities.
“We’re still in an organizing, reorganizing-type state,” said Rodriguez, the Cottonwood Administrative Services Manager who is also involved with the SciTech Festival committee.
Application is not limited to schools, either – local organizations may also apply for funding or helping with marketing with the Verde Valley RIC. “Other organizations may apply that would like to have their own STEM expo, or if they would like helping marketing their events,” Rodriguez said.
“We’re very excited to promote STEM. We’ll have this money for these organizations and schools to apply to,” said Joens. “Organizations can apply for money from the grant, our job is to get the message out there.”
As for other future goals, the committee hopes to see an increase in numbers. “We’d like to increase our attendance,” said Joens. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for kids to do and learn something.”