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Meet Michael McKelvy of Science is Fun-Basha in Chandler

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael McKelvy.

Michael, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was that annoying kid, the one always asking why? Curiosity drove me throughout school and my career. I often brought my sons to the lab to have fun exploring science, but what about all the kids that couldn’t come? I co-founded Science is Fun to bring the fun and excitement of scientific discovery to as many students, especially underrepresented students, as we could. The diverse, older-student, STEM role models that present Science is Fun illustrate everyone can be a scientist.

I enjoyed the thrill of scientific discovery during my 31-year research career at Arizona State University (ASU), but diversity was an ongoing challenge. I ran research groups funded by the US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation and directed the Goldwater Materials Science Laboratories, but the most fun I had was co-founding and directing the Science is Fun Program. The program, developed with support from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education, has been honored with ASU’s Outstanding Community Impact Award. In 2007, I retired from ASU to share the fun and excitement of scientific discovery and Science is Fun with my students at Basha High School.

Science is Fun-Basha utilizes high school STEM role models to excite younger students, and community members, about the world of science and STEM. The program has well established its ability to excite students about science. “Wow! Is that magic? No, it’s science.” “The students loved the presentations. They all want to be scientists now!” In the process, the program has grown to annually impact thousands of K-12 students in their classrooms and thousands more at community events.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The biggest challenge is overcoming the number one fear in America, public speaking, which ranks ahead of dying! After I finished my first professional presentation at an American Chemical Society meeting in Las Vegas, my research advisor greeted me with – “You were great, once you stopped shaking.” Such is the challenge that faces each Science is Fun student. However, once they start their first presentation and discover the 4th-grade students are getting excited, shouting out what they think will happen, and having fun, the fear begins to melt away. After the presentations, the 4th-grade students will often write thank you cards to the Science is Fun students and have even asked for their autographs.

Science is Fun-Basha – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The size and diversity of the US STEM workforce is inadequate to meet 21st-century demand. Novel approaches are needed to enhance student interest in and motivation to pursue STEM in school and future careers. Recent research underscores the importance of STEM role models in increasing the number of students, especially underrepresented students, who pursue STEM classes and careers. The Science is Fun students provide these role models as they bring the excitement of scientific discovery to younger students. “The kids were saying throughout the day. Science IS fun! We were so impressed with the girls. I loved how at the end, they talked about what science careers they wanted to pursue in college. That’s so great for the kids (especially the girls) to hear!”

Science is Fun-Basha is well known for both its Walk-Up presentations at numerous events across Central Arizona and its Energy in the World Around You presentation for 4th-grade students in their classrooms. The program strives to enhance student interest in​ and their self-efficacy​and abilities associated with science, as well as their perceptions of science and who can be a scientist. Diverse STEM role models are incorporated in Science is Fun to challenge the stereotypical perceptions of science and scientists and illustrate everyone can be a scientist.

The Energy in the World Around You presentation has been found to significantly enhance 4th-grade student interest in and​their self-efficacy​and abilities associated with science/STEM, as well as their perceptions of science and the diversity of people that can be a scientist. When the 4th-grade students were asked to draw a scientist doing science before experiencing the presentation, they drew 59% male and 41% female scientists. After the presentation, they drew 52% male and 48% female scientists, with primarily girls that originally drew male scientists, drawing female scientists. Everyone can be a scientist!

What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
My proudest moment came when my Science is Fun students began referring to our team as our Science is Fun Family, a family where we all look out for each other and help each other grow. The sheer fun of sharing scientific discovery with younger students and community members is the foundation from which we grow. The elementary students get excited about science and look up to the high school presenters as role models, while the high school students feel their self-confidence, self-awareness, communication skills, and public speaking ability grow as they present Science is Fun. Science is Fun greatly contributed to my good fortune in receiving the 2013 Arizona Teacher of the Year Award (Governor’s Celebration of Innovation) and the 2015 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

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