April 2017: Desert Data Jam

April 2017: Desert Data Jam

By Libby Grace

Ask any teacher why they do what they do and I guarantee most will allude to the “light bulb” moments of teaching. They may tell stories of students who perch on the cusp of understanding, and with guidance, find it. These are the moments that lead many to teach and keep them teaching. Ask any teacher what is the most challenging part of their jobs, and many will tell you other pressures make it harder and harder to find these moments in their classrooms.

Constantly challenged to synthesize light blub moments and performance scores, teachers must find a balance of objective achievement and subjective learning. This is the dance of the teacher. Desert Data Jam is one way that Asombro supports teachers in this dance. Combining data literacy and student creativity to communicate scientific data is the heart of Desert Data Jam.

In 2011, Asombro staff began noticing that students were struggling while working with data – whether collected by others or on their own. To a middle or high school student, scientific data can be as intimidating as a foreign language, and to many it may as well be one. We hoped that we could design a program that could give students tools to find ease in interpreting and communicating data. We wanted to not only increase data literacy, but to assure students that their artistic talents have a role in science too.

Then, Kris Havstad from the USDA’s Jornada Experimental Range brought our attention to “Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure” by Craig Robinson. Taking the complex statistics that are often part of baseball, Robinson creates images that make baseball data accessible to anybody. We thought, what if students did just this, but with scientific data? What if we gave students ecological data? Could they retell that data in a non-traditional way? From this, the idea of Desert Data Jam was born.

After successful pilots in the 2011/12 school year with nearly 100 high school students, Desert Data Jam has grown to reach more than 1,200 students since its initiation. This includes expanding to develop a middle school division beginning in the 2014/15 school year. The Data Jam model has spread, and there are currently at least 4 Data Jam Competitions nationally, including in places like Puerto Rico and Baltimore.

The goal of Desert Data Jam is for students to develop a creative project and presentation board that explains a locally relevant, ecological dataset to an audience that may be unfamiliar with the concepts involved. Asombro visits sixteen, 7th grade classes in the Las Cruces Public School District four times throughout the school year to introduce and support students in completing Desert Data Jam projects. Each visit has a different focus, from introducing the project and giving examples, to helping students dig into the data and identify a trend, to reviewing the scientific practices used to collect the data. Across all visits, we encourage students to find inspiration in their own interests to develop a creative project that tells the story of their dataset. Once students have crunched the numbers, found their trends, and crafted creative ways to tell their data’s story, they can compete in the final competition hosted by Asombro in the Jornada’s building at New Mexico State University.

The 2015/16 school year was my first introduction to Desert Data Jam. Since then, I have worked with most participating classes, picking apart the data with hundreds of students. I find myself constantly reassuring them that in this project, their own interests should drive their learning. Together, we work through any frustration and intimidation of interpreting data and find ourselves on the other side, with an understanding of scientific data and an eagerness to communicate it creatively. When I see their creative projects and how they accurately represent their dataset (legend and labels included!), these are my light bulb moments. In this data and information driven world, if students complete Desert Data Jam with the ability to think critically and re-communicate information, then we have achieved our own goal for Desert Data Jam.

In the spring of each school year, Asombro hosts the Desert Data Jam competition. The top projects from each participating class come together to compete for the highest acknowledgements (and cash prizes). It’s at this event, browsing the final projects that I feel the sense of pride that many educators are familiar with, the one that stems not from my own accomplishments, but rather the accomplishments of students. Among tie-dye t-shirts, storybooks, video games, leatherwork, newscasts, and zombie videos (to name a few), I can feel the creativity pulsing the room. And while my hope is to inspire students to create something from scientific data, I end up full of inspiration and optimism by just how creative our future scientists are.

The Joys of Winter in the Desert

The Joys of Winter in the Desert

By Rachel Szczytko


Winter in the desert gets cold. The deciduous plants have lost their leaves. The days are short. Snow may fall (as we’ve seen quite a bit this season!).


But, just because winter is here, it doesn’t mean there are not countless wonderful things to see and do outside. Follow this guide to learn about the cool critters and plants you can find in the desert this time of year. Better yet – head out to our Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park, and take in the winter wonderland for yourself.


So, what makes the winter so great in the desert? Here are a few reasons:


#1) Cool temperatures


The high temperature in January in Las Cruces is 59°F. Compare that to the 95°F high in July, and spending time outside in the winter immediately looks more attractive.


The warmest times of day will be from 10 am to 4 pm while the sun is shining high.



#2) Easier to look for animal signs (and animals themselves)


Animal signs pop out when leaves have fallen and other plants have died back. Use this checklist to find different animal signs outside:


  • Open cache pits from kangaroo rats
    • Kangaroo rats store seeds in covered pits during the year. Hungry kangaroo rats dig up their pits in the winter!


  • Coyote noises and scat
    • Coyote yips and howls can be heard often in dusk and dawn in the winter.


  • Prickly pears that have been snacked on
    • The high-water and -nutrient content of prickly pear cacti make them an ideal food for black-tailed jackrabbits, desert cottontails, and pack rats. Animals will also dig up the prickly pear (non-spiny) roots.



#3) Still green to be seen



Even though some plants lose their leaves, the desert in the winter still has plenty of green around. Cacti give the desert a lot of green: prickly pear, hedgehog, barrel, and cholla.


Creosote bush is everywhere. Our most abundant shrub – and an evergreen – it provides a lot of color during the winter months.


Yucca, agave, Mormon tea, and other plants keep their green too. Keep your eyes peeled for the bright red fruits of Christmas Cholla still clinging on as well.



#4) Migratory birds move in


Warm weather doesn’t only attract snow birds! Birds migrate from all over the globe to the Chihuahuan Desert in the winter. Look for a few in particular:


  • North American grassland birds – Almost all of the grassland birds breeding in the western Great Plains are migratory. Ninety-percent of these species spend their winters in the Chihuahuan Desert.[1]


  • Sandhill Cranes – Keep your eyes up! Large flocks of Sandhill Cranes will migrate in their distinctive “V” formation to their breeding grounds in the Northern US and Canada.


  • Red-tailed Hawks – The most commonly-seen raptor in the winter, Red-tailed Hawks fly into the Chihuahuan Desert in October and November. The Swainson’s Hawks we see in the summer head to Patagonia for the winter.


Want to get better acquainted with the desert in winter?


Come to our Scientist Saturdays at the Nature Park! Click below to learn more.


Learn More


[1] CEC. 2013. Where do grassland birds winter? Density, abundance and distribution of wintering grassland passerines in the Chihuahuan Desert.. Montreal, Canada. Commission for Environmental Cooperation. 30pp.

Behind the Scenes at Asombro

Behind the Scenes at Asombro: Planning for a New Year

By Stephanie Bestelmeyer


 “Every time you tear a leaf off a calendar, you present a new place for ideas and progress.” -Charles Kettering


Staff members Dakota, Rink, and Stephanie discuss goals for 2019.


I was recently talking with a long-time Asombro donor who asked me an interesting question:


When there is so much to do to improve New Mexico’s education system and help people learn to care more for the natural world, how do you decide what to do next?


He was surprised to hear about the lengthy and detailed process Asombro uses for setting our goals and objectives each year. After explaining the process to him, I thought many of you might also be interested in getting a behind-the-scenes look at planning for a new year.


For the last 15 years, our annual strategic planning process has involved three steps:



Step 1: Staff brainstorming, dreaming, and planning

It takes a very special kind of person to work at a nonprofit, and Asombro is fortunate to have an office full of these wonderful folks! Not only do Rink, Stephanie, Ryan, Rachel, and Dakota work tirelessly to make the world a better place, they also think deeply about how we can constantly improve our services. Therefore, the logical people to begin planning for the new year are our staff members.


We begin working during weekly staff meetings, but our largest effort comes at a daylong retreat. Over lots of coffee and a scrumptious lunch (this year from Chachi’s), we spend the day at my house discussing and planning the new year. At the end of the day, we have a draft list of priorities, goals, and specific objectives to help us reach those goals.


Step 2: Board of Directors planning retreat

While most people are finishing their holiday shopping and decorating, Asombro’s incredible Board of Directors spends an entire Saturday in December setting the goals, objectives, and budget for the upcoming year.


This year, we met at Salud! de Mesilla for a day of discussions, laughter, and work. We fine-tune the draft objectives list prepared by the staff and then work to make sure we have a budget in place to meet our goals. In 2019, we ended up with three major goals, 16 objectives, and 95 (!) specific tasks to help us meet them (see below for a sneak peek at a few of them).


Step 3: Making specific plans and timelines for each objective

Although many organizations’ strategic plans sit on a shelf for the majority of the year, Asombro’s plan is an active document we use weekly. This begins in early January when the staff puts together a specific strategy for each item, including all the steps needed to make it happen, deadlines, and the staff member who will shepherd the project to its completion. I’m not going to lie – this step is hard! I think all staff members leave this meeting feeling a bit overwhelmed by all there is to do. However, we are also excited to get started on ideas that we started dreaming about months ago.



The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park is a focus for 2019 as Asombro seeks to provide more innovative outdoor learning opportunities for youth and adults.

One dream we are pursuing in 2019 is continuing to assist New Mexico teachers with implementation of the new science education standards. This will include tasks such as continuing our successful education programs like the Desert Data Jam, Stepping Out for Science Inquiry, and Desert Stories; hosting teacher workshops; and continuing to develop engaging classroom lessons and field trips that align with the new standards.


In addition, we will focus even more this year on providing innovative outdoor learning opportunities for youth and adults. This will include updating our Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park field trip program, bringing back our holiday luminaria event, testing a regular schedule at the Nature Park when staff members are on site to answer questions, and partnering with other groups who share our goal of getting more people out into the desert.


If you’re interested in hearing more about our full list of ideas for the new year, please contact me. 2019 presents a new time and place for ideas and progress, and I can’t wait to get started!

Stephanie Bestelmeyer is the Executive Director of Asombro. She has been with the organization since 2000 and has a doctorate in Biology from Colorado State University.

The More Things Change, The More They Remain the Same

The More Things Change, The More They Remain the Same

By Rink Somerday

As 2018 comes to a close, we want to look back on how far our organization has come in the past 28 years.


Humans have a funny way of putting meaning on numbers.


Some numbers are “big ones” like a 25th anniversary or a 50th birthday. Some are a coming of age, like that first year of the teens or finally becoming an adult at 21. Some numbers are more personal, like going one year without smoking or staying a full month on a diet.


As the end of the year approaches, humans also have a knack for looking back and reflecting on what the past year has brought or lost and what has been accomplished or fell through the cracks.


Being a human, I feel obliged to look back at the past and do some reflecting as to what Asombro has accomplished in the past 16 (almost) years that I have worked here.

Students plan out their video on animal and plant adaptations.


When I first started, I was the second staff member, with our director, Stephanie, being the first. I had a sharp learning curve on the local ecosystem, having grown up in Pennsylvania and living in Colorado prior to moving here. During those first few months, I learned about our Chihuahuan Desert along with the kids and came to appreciate the beauty of it.


After a few years of just the two of us, Asombro (then known as the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park) hired additional staff members, and our office moved from the downtown mall to our current location on the west end of the NMSU campus. Sixteen years later, our staff has grown to six, and we went from reaching a little more than 12,000 kindergarten – 12th grade students to a projected doubling of that number by then end of 2018.


We have seen changes to the state education standards with the introduction of Common Core Math and English Language Arts Standards. In response to these standards, we created several programs that brought science and literacy together, showing students that science isn’t a stand-alone subject; science is everywhere. With the recent adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards, we have adapted some “old favorite” lessons and created new ones to bring science to a new level of instruction and learning.

Students examine ocotillo during an early Asombro field trip. Over the past two decades, teaching moments like these have remained the same!


While we have grown in size and demand, some things have remained the same. Our director does her best to make every penny count, and our board of directors is scrupulous with the budget.  Our volunteers are still the best there are. We have lost a few over the years, but new volunteers bring their knowledge and enthusiasm. We couldn’t do what we do without them.


I still get warm fuzzies when I see students I have had in the past, and they tell me they remember what we taught them. Earlier in this school year, I was in a high school, and a very tall young man – now a senior – walked up to me and excitedly said, “You came to my classroom in 3rd grade, and we did science, and we went on a field trip, and you taught us about wild animals.”


I can’t wait to see what the future is going to bring!


A few things are certain: our director will put every penny to work; our volunteers will still be the best; and kids will still be excited about science.


If you want to help Asombro continue to do this work, please consider giving to our end-of-year campaign.



Give Now


Rink Somerday is the Education Program Coordinator at Asombro. She has been with the organization for almost 16 years.

Closer to Home: Place-Based Education & Connection

Closer to Home: Place-Based Education & Connection

By Dakota Dominguez

The Organ Mountains at sunset is one way to remember this place of Las Cruces.

At Asombro, we offer engaging, place-based science education programs, but what does “place-based” really mean, and why is it a worthwhile way of framing science education?


The concept of place is one of those that is at once simple and intuitive but, at the same time, elusive and difficult to ever fully comprehend. Place can be defined in many ways: as the memories communities collectively share in a certain locale or the particular flora and fauna of a given landscape or the unique-human cultures that have developed.


The simplest explanation of place-based, and the one that I offer to students in Asombro programs, is that we take universally applicable science concepts and anchor them in our local surroundings.


Dakota shares about the coyote’s role in the students local place, the Chihuahuan Desert.

For example, in Asombro’s 9th and 10th grade lesson, Matter & Energy Cycling in the Chihuahuan Desert, students learn that different amounts of matter and energy are stored at ascending layers of a trophic pyramid. Students find that there are not as many secondary consumers (predators) in the ecosystem as there are primary producers (plants) or primary consumers (herbivores). This is true no matter what type of ecosystem we may study – be it a rainforest or the ocean. But Asombro chooses to use local examples for each level of the trophic pyramid. For instance, we show to students a real branch of honey mesquite and have them pet a real coyote pelt.


My intent as a place-based science educator is that these experiential moments help students make connections to the wild world of the desert outside their classroom.


My desire is to spark a sense of familiarity.


My hope is that students are able to connect the data from concepts we cover in class to those personal, emotional experiences, and memories they have in this place – like having spent hours sitting by a particular honey mesquite shrub or remembering the excitement of seeing a coyote cross the road.


At its best, place-based education breaks open the figurative (and sometimes literal) walls of a classroom and allows students to understand that their lives in- and out-of-school are directly hinged to the overwhelmingly awesome natural phenomena of place in which we all partake.


A real-life honey mesquite bush that Asombro references in many lessons.

Place-based education assumes that this place is special. No matter where that place is. It assumes that the vast and rocky land we live in is as worthy an example in which to study the phenomena of the universe as any place.


Place-based education means that we can study anything by starting at home, using the immediate and familiar world right in front of us. It means that we develop lessons that adhere big science concepts to our local flora, fauna, cultures, and economy. To take it a step further, place-based science education not only grounds knowledge in the local place, but it can also ground us in place by helping us realize that we are all truly a part of the ecology of our home desert.


If we can build strong understanding based in our home place, we can more confidently explore and find connections all around the world. In a modern world of abstraction and distraction, place-based education can help ground us and help us recall what really matters in our lives: the landscapes that sustain our communities, the relationships we hold dear, and the memories we make in this place we call home.


This place matters.


We can learn a whole lot by just looking a little closer right here in our home.

Dakota is the newest Science Education Specialist at Asombro. He is excited to connect students to their home desert.

Matter and Energy: Around and Around in the Chihuahuan Desert

Matter and Energy: Around and Around in the Chihuahuan Desert

By Stephanie Haan-Amato


Doesn’t everyone want to go back to high school again?  We do!


Dakota, the newest Science Education Specialist at Asombro, shares the phenomenon of the day with students at Centennial High School.


The Asombro staff is excited to head into all of Las Cruces Public School high schools this year with a brand-new lesson about energy and matter cycling for 9th and 10th graders.  This three-dimensional lesson is fully aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards (learn more about 3D learning in our blog post here).  It meets the Performance Expectation: Use mathematical representations to support claims for the cycling of matter and flow of energy among organisms in an ecosystem.


In this ecology-focused, quantitative lesson, students start out with a hands-on activity right away.  Without being told what they are making, students are given a scaled number of colored, small foam cubes and a key to show which colors represent which desert organism. They discover the bag contains 100 green for honey mesquite, 10 blue for jackrabbit, and 1 yellow for coyote.


We ask students to arrange their cubes in a logical way that makes sense to them. Sometimes, they end up making a trophic pyramid (or a trophic wall, a trophic tower, or a trophic blob).  Sometimes, they simply sort them by color.  However they arrange them, students realize that they are working with materials that represent a food chain.

The first model of a trophic pyramid students create in the lesson on matter and energy cycling.


This brings us to the central question of the lesson:


Why is there only one yellow cube?


In other words, why isn’t there as much coyote biomass in the Chihuahuan Desert as there is jackrabbit biomass as there is honey mesquite biomass? We spend the rest of the lesson delving into this question.


Students develop two more models, using actual scientific data (including some collected at the Jornada).   They move multi-colored and -sized pom poms to represent different amounts of matter and energy.  Using cards to prompt them with the transfers, students cycle their matter and energy around a trophic pyramid modeling board and keep track of the movement with wet erase markers.

Students in the midst of transferring matter and energy around their model of the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem.


While completing the physical model with pom poms, student also record the number of matter and energy in each transfer on a trophic pyramid model on their worksheets.


The lesson concludes with students measuring the matter transfer in the respiration of decomposers.  After making a prediction, students use carbon dioxide sensors and data loggers to track the carbon dioxide levels.  Students love learning that soil respires too, just like them!  Well, almost.


Students at Centennial High School record the level of decomposer respiration using a carbon sensor.

The end of the lesson helps students tie everything together to make sense of the central question: Why is there only one yellow cube in our first model?


After moving matter and energy around the ecosystem, students have shown that most of the matter and energy in the system is transferred to the atmosphere through respiration and thermal energy transfers. Matter and energy leave the food chain constantly so coyotes do not have as much matter and energy available to have the same size population as jackrabbits or honey mesquite. Just like that – we have helped form amateur ecologists!


It is only the beginning of October, and we have already been able to bring this lesson to hundreds of 9th and 10th graders at Mayfield High School and Las Cruces High School.  Students have impressed us with their intellect and curiosity and with how much they already know about energy and matter (maybe with the help of some Asombro lessons from middle school).


Some high school students are bringing up questions about population dynamics and are even tying humans into the ecology equation. We will be visiting Oñate High School and Centennial High School with the lesson very soon and are most definitely looking forward to it!

Stephanie is a Science Education Specialist with Asombro. As a former high school biology teacher, she is excited to be back in high school classrooms.


My Journey as a 2018 NAAEE Community Environmental Education Fellow

My Journey as a 2018 NAAEE Community Environmental Education Fellow

By Ryan Pemberton


In February 2018, an application came across my desk to be a part of the North American Association for Environmental Education’s (NAAEE) Community Environmental Education (EE) Fellowship program.  As I read through the program requirements and goals, it became abundantly clear that many of their goals and objectives align with what we are trying to do at Asombro:


  • use innovative and creative education strategies;
  • tackle community environmental issues through education; and
  • emphasize community engagement, sustainability, and resiliency.


So, I applied on a whim and crossed my fingers.


The 2018 ee360 Community Fellowship cohort during their retreat in Virginia. Try to spot Ryan (hint: he is near the “L”)!

Three months later, myself and 31 other individuals from around the world were selected to be a part of the 2018 cohort.  All fellows are expected to design and implement an Action Project in their community that targets a specific, community, environmental issue and increases environmental literacy.


After acceptance into the program, I drove across the country (along with my dog) to attend a week-long Leadership Institute in Warrenton, Virginia.  While in Virginia, I got to network with amazing people from all corners of the United States (as well as four people from different countries) who share similar goals and ambitions as me.


They have a wide variety of skills and expertise which I was able to learn from. I also received some valuable professional development in community engagement strategies and targeted marketing that could directly benefit Asombro.


Also, it was refreshing to spend a week in my beloved eastern pine forests that I left a little more than three years ago when I moved to New Mexico to begin my career with Asombro. It was also a wonderful reminder that summers may be very hot in New Mexico, but at least they don’t include 97% humidity on a daily basis.


The next steps for me as a part of this fellowship are:


  • to put the final touches on my Action Project (with the help and support from mentors I was able to meet in the Leadership Institute);
  • implement it with students around Las Cruces; and
  • present on my project and fellowship experience at the annual NAAEE conference being hosted this year in Spokane, Washington.


So, come October 9-13, if you can’t find me, I will be in Spokane representing Asombro and the wonderful education programs we deliver to tens of thousands of New Mexico students every year.


Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of this amazing professional opportunity without the support and encouragement from my coworkers and Asombro’s awesome Board of Directors.  From letters of support and words of encouragement, to a list of contacts along the road in case of car trouble – thank you for everything.


To find out more about the fellowship program or to read more about the projects being implemented by all fellows, follow this link: https://naaee.org/our-work/programs/ee360/ee360-community-ee-fellowship



P.S. Libby, I know you are reading this. Want to grab some coffee in Spokane?

Ryan is a Science Education Specialist at Asombro. He hopes that participating in the ee360 Fellowship will give him the tools to be a more effective educator and leader in his community


Helping New Mexico be STEM Ready!

Helping New Mexico be STEM Ready!

By Rachel Szczytko


In July of 2018, New Mexico officially implemented a whole new set of science standards. The NM STEM Ready! Standards turn old science teaching upside down. The Standards, which are made up of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) with an additional six New Mexico-specific standards, focus on “3D-Learning.”


The Next Generation Science Standards promote 3D learning where teachers combine science practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts in each lesson.

No, our students are not going to be wearing 3D-vision glasses in every science class. Rather, teachers will focus on more than science content in their lessons. Teachers will educate three-dimensionally.  In the STEM Ready! Standards, three things are taught equally:


(1) Core ideas in science – the content, facts, and theories;

(2) Science and engineering practices – things that scientists actually do every day, like developing and using models; and

(3) Cross-cutting concepts – big ideas in science, think energy and matter or cause and effect.


Besides learning in 3D, students will tackle science topics through a phenomenon – something that relates to their life or sparks an interest in them.  Students are encouraged to ask questions, develop ideas, and seek solutions to these phenomena.


Although this change is great for our students (it is backed by decades of research on how students best learn science), it can be a tough change for teachers.


3D Learning is unlike previous science curriculum – that means teachers need to be trained in the new standards. They need to learn new content. They also could have to completely redevelop lessons and materials they have been utilizing for years.


And that takes time.


Unfortunately, our teachers only have a few months to do so – in addition to all of their other preparations.


Teachers work through a station of a NGSS-aligned Asombro lesson on White Sands Lizards during a teacher workshop in July 2018.

The Asombro Institute for Science Education is well-positioned to help our hard-working teachers get a handle on the new standards. Asombro has been teaching lessons that emphasize inquiry-based science learning for many years; these methods are similar to the ones called for in the Standards.


Asombro staff members have been learning about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) since the final version was released in 2013. Asombro also is dedicated solely to science-education, so we can focus on understanding the standards in-depth and using them in a dynamic way. Asombro is poised to help bring quality NGSS lessons to students and help teachers feel more comfortable with the new standards.


One way we are doing this is through teacher workshops. This summer, Asombro hosted a NM Stem Ready! Workshop for teachers from all-over New Mexico. Teachers from 10 different schools and five different districts attended. Our participants commented that they felt much more confident in making their own lessons align with NGSS after the workshop, although they wish they had more time to prepare (a feeling we definitely share).


We love doing teacher outreach at Asombro. And, we really love getting to teach our NGSS-aligned lessons in classrooms. This time of year, we want to help get Asombro into as many schools as possible across the state. Our Science Sponsors campaign lets anyone sponsor a classroom of students to get a free, NGSS-aligned, science-lesson. Be a donor today, and help us help teachers and students get STEM Ready!


Learn about Science Sponsors


Donate Here

Rachel is the newest Science Education Specialist at Asombro. She is passionate about the Next Generation Science Standards and preparing teachers and students alike to learn 3-Dimensionally.

Refueling My Passion for Really Good Science Education

Refueling My Passion for Really Good Science Education

By Libby Grace


Libby works with two teachers during a Scientifically Connected Communities workshop.


Three years ago, I was a frustrated middle school science teacher. Having just completed Teach for America in Chicago, I found myself shocked at the status of science education in public schools. A lack of resources, and optimism, made meeting the needs of my students feel unattainable. When I applied for the Science Education Specialist position at the Asombro Institute for Science Education, I wanted to get back to my roots: outdoor environmental education. I envisioned spending my days sauntering through the desert, identifying the plants and animals with kiddos in tow.


Little did I know, I would spend most at Asombro days right back in public middle school classrooms; only this time I would gain an entirely different perspective. Class by class, I learned what really good science education looks like and was reminded that it can take place inside a public school classroom.


Since I started working at Asombro, I have been amazed by the capacity of this organization. In just three years, a small, dedicated staff has increased the population served annually by more than 5,000 students. Through carefully built partnerships, Asombro works with every 7th and 8th grade student in Las Cruces Public Schools at least once each year. This has continued to build; Asombro will be seeing every 9th and 10th grade student in Las Cruces Public Schools for the 2018-19 school year. In addition, Asombro leads many other education programs across all grade levels, develops engaging curriculum, writes grant proposals, and facilitates teacher workshops. For the past 18 years, Director Stephanie Bestelmeyer, with the help of a dedicated Board of Directors and amazing crew of volunteers, has steadily laid the groundwork for Asombro to become part of the foundation of science education in Las Cruces and across the state of New Mexico. I am overjoyed that this region has such an incredible resource to support science education through the Asombro Institute for Science Education.


While here, I have been exposed to partnerships with local schools that benefit both students and teachers alike. I often find myself wondering about the students I worked with in Chicago, and all of the other students across the country that do not have access to rigorous and engaging science education. I was teaching them only three years ago.

Libby Grace and executive director, Steph Bestelmeyer, prepare for the Desert Data Jam in 2018.


What about these students?


What about these teachers?


Do they have their own Asombro?


If not, how can we build one?



These are the questions that have driven me to pursue my PhD in Science Education. I am nothing short of inspired by the work of the Asombro Institute for Science Education, and I excitedly look to carry this inspiration forward as I explore these important partnerships between science institutions and public schools.


Libby congratulates a participant during the New Mexico Climate Champions.

I’ve often said that Asombro brought to light things that I never knew I was passionate about. I never expected to reignite a desire to be in middle school classrooms. I never expected facilitating teacher workshops to be so thought provoking and reflective. I never expected data literacy in K-12 education to become so important to me. Yet, my most memorable teaching moments have occurred while struggling through science data with 7th graders. Ask anyone at Asombro: I love Data Jam.


The same way we hope Asombro programs fuel a passion for science in our students, working for Asombro has fueled my passion for really good science education that is accessible to all students. For that, and so much more, I am eternally grateful.


The experiences that I have been lucky enough to be a part of with Asombro are invaluable to me. If, down the line, I can say that I have made even half of the impact that Asombro makes in students’ and teachers’ lives, I will be satisfied. As I move forward, I only hope that I can represent this organization with the integrity, grit, and perseverance that it deserves. Although, professionally, this is my departure from Asombro, my true hope is that it will be a continuation of the principles I’ve learned in this great organization.


So, rather than a farewell, here’s to even more partnerships for the betterment of science education for students everywhere! I cannot extend enough thanks to everyone that has supported me along the way.


Libby Grace is moving to Vancouver, WA to pursue a PhD in Mathematics and Science Education at Washington State University. She intends to focus her work on building bridges between informal and formal science education. 

2017 – Disasters, Drama, and Delight

2017 – Disasters, Drama, and Delight

By Steph Bestelmeyer


2017 was quite a year. Our office was burglarized in May and then flooded in September due to a broken pipe. In October, the Public Education Department proposed New Mexico science education standards that omitted key concepts about evolution and climate change. Yet in spite of all the drama, 2017 is shaping up to be Asombro’s best year ever. Working together, our staff, Board of Directors, other volunteers, and donors accomplished so much, including:


  • Delivering hands-on, engaging science education programs for more than 20,000 students.
  • Launching the New Mexico Climate Champions Project for students and teachers throughout the state.
  • Bringing in more than $220,000 of grant money to support science education in our community.
  • Maintaining the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park for visitors of all ages and adding the beautiful Rainkeepers art piece.


Asombro’s staff weathered the year’s drama while maintaining a great attitude and a laser-like focus on our true mission to increase science literacy. I asked Rink, Stephanie, Libby, and Ryan to reflect on some of the highlights of the year, and I added my own. Here are a few of our favorite things from this year, from the lofty and inspiring to the silly and fun.


Overcoming Drama

“Our membership base came to our aid to replace computers after the theft.” Rink

“When our computers were stolen, we received overwhelming support from the community that surpassed our fundraising needs.” Libby

“After both the burglary and the flood, our staff was back to our science education work with teachers and students immediately. We worked extra hours to recover from the drama, but it didn’t hinder our main work one bit.” Steph

“Our strong science education community in New Mexico fought against faulty education standards, leading to the adoption of the much improved NM STEM Ready/Next Generation Science Standards.” Stephanie


Friends and Partners

“I’m grateful for our volunteers, who are so kind and dedicated that I can hardly believe it.” Stephanie

“I’m grateful that I have an avenue to do something I really love because there is a community out there that also thinks it is important.” Ryan

“I’m glad that I have friends that donated to Asombro’s 100 Donations in 100 Days campaign for my birthday.” Rink

“A highlight for me was being able to help other organizations such as La Semilla with their summer camp programs.” Rink

“The staff at the Jornada Experimental Range ranch along with Justin Van Zee, Caly Tellez, Gil Tellez, and Sally Tellez take such great care of the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park, including unlocking and locking gates twice a day, six days a week. They are amazing.” Steph


Science Education Programs

“The NM Climate Champions teacher workshop was the most rewarding experience for me this year, possibly the most rewarding in my career.” Libby

“I love having the opportunity to work with students and teach science in such a fun way.” Stephanie

“I’m grateful that I can interact with students as elementary students and then see them again in middle or high school.” Rink

“All the Jams were fun – from Desert Data Jam to Climate Data Jam to Energy Data Jam to Baby Jam to data jams at teacher workshops. We extended Data Jam into a lot of different contexts and grades this year.” Libby

“I enjoyed traveling around southern New Mexico to do summer reading programs at local libraries.” Rink


Silly, Yet True

“Thanks to a generous volunteer who donated his truck, I’m grateful that, on occasion, I get to drive a big truck again.” Ryan

“We have two office fairies who place office supplies and treats onto staff members’ desks and tame the weeds around our office so we can actually get in the front door. They don’t do it for the thanks, but we are so grateful for them.” Steph