AZ SciTech Festival Sponsor Highlight: Cox Communications — We Thank You!
Guest Author: Marisa Ostos, director, Arizona SciTech Festival
Did you know the Arizona SciTech Festival is the third-largest STEM festival and initiative in the United States? A large portion of this is due to the hard work of hundreds of community leaders and collaborators over the years who have joined us in our mission of both promoting STEM education and showing Arizona as a true leader in STEM. One of our strongest supporting organizations and Presenting Sponsor is Cox Communications, which has been with us since our very first Festival season (back in 2012)! Two weeks ago, I had the chance to interview Sheldon Caldwell-Meeks, Senior Community Relations Specialist with Cox, and gain exciting, first-hand insight into why they continue to passionately support us and STEM year after year. You can read Sheldon’s interview answers below!
How long have you been involved with the Arizona SciTech Festival?
I’ve been involved with SciTech since I started with Cox, which was now 5 years ago.
Why get involved with STEM?
Being a technology company, STEM is something very important to Cox. We want to be an organization that helps to advance STEM education for young people all over the state so that they can eventually see themselves having a career in the STEM world. Of course, we would also love to influence and encourage young people to think “tech” so that maybe one day, they might end up working for Cox, building our network, being one of our engineers… developing the technology that powers what we do on the daily basis!
What areas does Cox focus on in STEM?
We focus on STEM overall. It touches everything and is an integral part of who we are. The science behind how our technology is used, for example, is fascinating. If you listen to the engineers who build and innovate our system, it’s like listening to another language!
Do you touch the arts, too?
Our overall mission supporting our community is to advance community education. We focus on STEM with initiatives like the Connect2STEM Signature Event and the Awards Ceremony, but through our corporate giving and charities, we also support arts programs because we support education.
How many STEM professionals work with Cox?
Easily more than half. The best model of this is our field services group which works with installing internet service, connecting and disconnecting people. They are STEM experts because they must know the technology behind it in and out in order to solve our customers’ problems.
How does your own job intersect with STEM?
My position serves as a bridge to the community. I fortunately get to work with great organizations like the Arizona SciTech Festival to advocate for STEM, making sure young people are thinking about STEM in a way that it can be a career for them. I may not have the tech acumen of some of my colleagues here, but at the end of the day, I definitely get to play a role in advancing STEM in the state so that it advances Cox as well.
How else does Cox contribute to the community outside of SciTech?
We are actually proud of the fact that our company, including the employees themselves, supports our local communities with quite a bit of cash and in-kind services. Cox provides over half a million dollars to charities around Arizona, and you [the Arizona SciTech Festival] were one of them! We are happy that our employees, and the Cox community at large, give up their own dollars to select programs that advance STEM.
So why partner with us, the Arizona SciTech Festival?
We try to show that Cox isn’t just a cable or internet company. We do contribute a lot economically, but you [the Festival] are incredibly flexible in allowing us to meaningfully engage and help grow the community in ways that also work best for us. A great example of this is our support for the Connect2STEM event with the University of Arizona which we started 5 years ago. Overall, we just want to do our part and make sure we give back, and the Festival is a great partner to help us do that.
What are specific ways you have partnered with SciTech over the years?
We have Cox Media, a great asset not many people know about. They’ve assisted with creating space for the Festival to advertise on hundreds of our cable networks, which has been a fantastic way to promote the great work that you are doing. I even remember seeing a SciTech spot on ESPN one night! We’ve made videos together, have a fantastic partnership with Connect2STEM, and are proud of the growth of the Connect2STEM Awards which allows us to honor some incredible champions of STEM statewide. We have a great partnership and are looking to continue doing that.
What are some of the exciting things you’ve personally done with the Arizona SciTech Festival?
In year 2 of Connect2STEM, we held an event called Connect2Mentors where mostly high school students had an opportunity to just chat with and really pick the brain of STEM professionals who looked like them (men and women of color). We had doctors in the room, people who were involved in finance (bringing in the math portion of STEM), and so many others. I think that representation really matters, and for them to have an actual conversation, asking questions like, “What got you excited about the career you’re in?” or, “What was your education path?” — the questions that let young people know what it took to get to where they are — that’s one of the highlights for me, because I believe that at the core of everything that SciTech does, that’s really the idea behind advocating for STEM – You want to put it in front of people in a way that they’ll get excited about it and hopefully one day choose a career in that field.
What exciting STEM initiatives do you have in place for Cox itself?
We have a program called Cox Conserves through which we use environmentally sustainable practices to reach our goal of contributing 0% to landfill by 2024. It is a pretty interesting program. For example, all trash bins under our employees’ desks have been turned into recycling containers. We’ve given every employee a very small trash receptacle as well, as everything at the desk is typically recyclable; It’s just that throwing things in the trash is more convenient. In our café area, we show you what you can compost vs. throw into the recycling bin. It’s just a lot of education, a lot of putting processes in place to really change the culture and make it easy for employees to recycle.
What is something the general public might not know about Cox?
Cox is deeply involved in so many aspects of our community, and education is no exception. In fact, we understand that students who do not have internet at home are at a strong disadvantage academically, and we are on a mission to bridge this digital divide. Because of this, we created a program called Connect2Compete which not only provides low-cost, no-contract internet service at only $9.95 per month for eligible households that have a child in the K-12 age range, but we do it free of charge, with no fees for equipment rental or installation!
Final Question: How does Cox see the Festival’s role with STEM in Arizona?
We see you as the leader. STEM is such an important part of the future and of our economy, and what you all do to really bring that STEM brand together is very important. That is why we’re involved. We know how important it is, and we’re just happy to have a role in whatever way we can assist you in increasing STEM in education. You guys are A+, the tops, so if there is anything we can do to help, we are all about that.
What a fascinating interview it was to really understand how one of our own largest supporters are pillars of the Arizona community for STEM & education at large, and we are proud to continue to work with them with them year after year. We are truly grateful to collaborate with such a passionate organization as Cox whose mission aligns with our own and serves to help the greater good, especially in relation to STEM!