2018 Viola Award Finalist for Community Impact (Individuals)

Mindy Bell is the coordinator for STEM City, and has been since Flagstaff became America’s 1st STEM Community in 2012. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education is her passion, and her mission is making STEM accessible and understandable to everyone. Mindy’s primary role at STEM City is to connect STEM businesses and organizations with K-12 schools, to increase STEM literacy and to foster new pathways for students to envisage their STEM careers of tomorrow. She also thrives working with the many community volunteers including the STEM Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) on the Flagstaff STEM Education Project. Mindy is fervently committed to combining STEM and the arts to create well-rounded citizens, and believes the power of art to illuminate science for a broader understanding cannot be overestimated.

Mindy’s passion for STEM builds on her 30-year science- and math-teaching career. She earned her B.A. in Biology from Carleton College and an M.A.T in Biology Teaching from the University of Washington. She taught 5th grade to college in five different states before moving to Flagstaff in 1998 with her husband and daughter. She first taught at the Center for Science Teaching and Learning at NAU, and then at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, prior to her present role at STEM City.

The nomination letter:

Mindy Bell, coordinator and public face of STEM City, has led Flagstaff along the steep climb to true realization of our status as the nation’s first STEM community. For most of the past five years she has been the only staff member for our non-profit group – but her tremendous energy and passion has accomplished the work of many, linking students and teachers in our local schools with the many professional scientists and engineers in this town. She richly merits recognition with the Viola Award for Excellence in Science Education in appreciation of her substantial impacts on Flagstaff and our students.

STEM City was incredibly fortunate to land Mindy as our coordinator, supported for just a few hours a week by Science Foundation Arizona funds, even before we organized as a formal non-profit. Mindy’s own vision and creative energy forged the engagement and networking tools that benefit our classrooms by harnessing the expertise embedded throughout Flagstaff science organizations.

Last year Mindy partnered with Northern Arizona University’s Civic Service Institute to write a successful proposal to fund, recruit, train, and support VISTA interns to expand capacity in our local schools and non-profits, creating and adapting curriculum in STEM fields. This year a second successful proposal brought a new crop of interns and a focus on designing and implementing program evaluation, so that our institutions might have data to document and advance their own effectiveness. The VISTA interns have worked directly with students and in some cases generated new funding for programs in Flagstaff, hence expanding student participation and benefits. Mindy’s focus on helping them find ways of institutionalizing their expanded programs means that the benefits will continue to accrue for Flagstaff students well into the future.

One last example of direct impact on students is the annual STEM Community Celebration at NAU’s Dome each spring (now approaching its fifth iteration). Before the advent of the Community Celebration, a student at one of our elementary or middle schools might see a handful of community volunteers at a school STEM night. But now, students and families from all Flagstaff schools and neighborhoods descend to the Skydome field filled with scores of volunteers and demonstrations; they have a chance to touch and to try and to talk with experts from astronomers to zoologists. This annual celebration brings together dozens of opportunities and resources in one easily accessible and fun location, and has truly magnified the visibility and the public appreciation of STEM assets in our community for all.

That project also exemplifies some of the broader impact on Flagstaff that Mindy continues to have. One tangible achievement has been her pursuit of recognition for Flagstaff as a “STEM Learning Ecosystem” in a national program meant to identify outstanding community-level collaborations focused on STEM education. Mindy identified the opportunity and spearheaded the application, drawing upon a dozen partner organizations with whom she had built relationships. We were accepted into the network of Ecosystems this past spring, bringing national attention to Flagstaff as the nation’s “first STEM community.” Membership in this network also puts us in immediate contact with a national pool of STEM program funders (including large corporations and foundations), connecting us with resources and bringing new ideas and expertise. This success, along with her involvement in several National Science Foundation grants, provides an inspiring model for how external funding (that is, resources from outside Flagstaff’s own philanthropic community) can be harnessed to our benefit.

Finally, Mindy Bell has repeatedly demonstrated her commitment to professional development for herself and other educators. Her own record as an outstanding teacher here in Flagstaff included such accomplishments as going through a rigorous selection process to win the opportunity to go to Antarctica with researchers, connecting her students directly with polar scientists through her personal reports. A major focus of her work with STEM City is linking our teachers with opportunities to expand their own capacities and development, by publicizing training and grant opportunities at the local, state, and national level through the semi-monthly e-newsletter for educators. A recent example is her partnership with several organizations in the City and with FUSD to bring US NOAA funding to Flagstaff, funding a teacher professional development workshop this coming summer focused on climate resilience.

In short, Mindy Bell has built on her own passion and success as a teacher in bringing to life the vision inherent in our proclamation of Flagstaff as a STEM City. Our students and teachers have benefited greatly from her efforts, and her contributions richly merit recognition with the Viola Award for Excellence in Science Education.

STEM City website >