Whether looking up to the stars or down to microorganisms, creating new technologies or improving existing ones, Flagstaff is home to science, technology, engineering and mathematics enthusiasts young and old who were recognized this week at STEM City’s seventh annual STEM Awards (“STEMMYs”).

About 50 community members gathered at the Museum of Northern Arizona on Tuesday to celebrate not only current STEM advocates, but also the past and future of STEM in Flagstaff.

“I’ve often referred to Flagstaff as the shining city on Arizona’s hill. It’s no accident that I borrowed that ideal from a famous and precisely American ideal of a shining city on a hill,” said Dave Engelthaler, director of TGen North and former chair of the STEM City board of directors.

In his presentation, Engelthaler commended the region’s involvement in not only the lunar missions of the 1960s, but also the research happening here now.

Aaron Tabor, president of the board for STEM City and biology faculty at Coconino Community College, also complimented Flagstaff’s unique situation, where STEM is more than just an acronym.

“There is an interdisciplinary approach to STEM in the community that includes those terms but so much more. We serve the entire community and really do lift each other up regardless of our affiliations,” Tabor said.

To recognize the diversity of such work, the STEMMYs honored students, teachers, community leaders and organizations who not only have a clear passion for STEM, but who have also contributed to the progress of STEM through their own efforts or by encouraging others.

At the ceremony, top nominees – based on a rubric noting their accomplishments and community impact – were recognized and received either awards or certificates to honor their accomplishments.

Twelfth graders Max Woolverton from CHS and Baylee Stringer, a homeschool student, were selected as this year’s student winners and received $500 scholarships.

Woolverton joined the Coconino Institute of Technology (CIT) his first year at CHS and is a self-declared inventor. He is a member of the CHS robotics team, the CocoNuts, and will attend the Florida Institute of Technology in the fall, with the goal of eventually receiving his master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He calls transportation and automotive work his specialty.

“I’m so thankful to have grown up here. The people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve made with teachers and key figures in the city and businesses have shown me the side of the world that is technology. The things I’ve grown up with here in Flagstaff will influence me for the rest of my life,” he said.

Stringer was nominated for her inspiring technical expertise, grace and patience, which she has demonstrated in her participation in the CocoNuts and as a mentor for the Lego League and Gadget Girls.

When she’s not working with rotors and gears, Stringer practices ballet dancing.

Also recognized were Eleanor McDonough from Basis and Zach Smith, another CocoNuts team member.

In honor of the nominated robotics students, one of the CocoNuts’ robots hand-delivered the envelopes with the winners of each category during the ceremony.

CHS biology teacher Kelley Smith won the award for STEM Teacher of the Year for his commitment to engaging students in the sciences, even creating an anatomy and physiology class for students interested in medical and science careers.

Marshall Elementary School’s Katie Krause and David Tessmer, CIT engineering teacher at CHS, were also nominated.

Coconino County Education Service Agency won the title of Organization of the Year, while three community leaders each received STEMMY awards for their dedication to local STEM efforts: Alice Christie, John Saltonstall and John Taylor.

Christie opened Tynkertopia last July to serve as a workspace for all community members to tinker with materials and develop inquiry, design, building and exploration skills. The nonprofit is now open five days a week and welcomes between 10 to 60 visitors each day.

Saltonstall is the City of Flagstaff’s economic development manager. He was nominated for his economic and workforce initiatives, including the creation of the Internship Network, which helps introduce students to local STEM organizations, among other industries.

Taylor is the founder of Terra Birds, a nonprofit that provides outdoor education to Flagstaff students with the goal of creating more environmental stewards. Terra Birds also manages four community gardens alongside the city.


The 2019 STEMMYs ended with an announcement appointing Kristine Penca as the organization’s new executive director.

Penca is the seventh grade science and engineering teacher at Sinagua Middle School’s Middle School Institute of Technology and Engineering (MIT-e) program. She is also the wife of Flagstaff Unified School District Superintendent Mike Penca.

Penca brings to the position plans to increase local partnerships and create more community STEM spaces that will allow people of all ages, but especially students, to learn from new STEM technologies.

“STEM education prepares students to be lifelong learners, to be able to participate in society at their highest level and to earn those jobs or those careers that they really want,” Penca said.

Kaitlin Olson can be reached at the office at kolson@azdailysun.com or by phone at (928) 556-2253. 


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