When the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) Foundation was established in 2005, its goal was simple: Get computers into every classroom in the district. That objective was quickly achieved, thanks to the dedication of its founding members, a small group of Scottsdale business people. From that singular objective, the foundation has branched out considerably in the intervening 15 years.


The Mini Grant program, for example, allows teachers to apply for funding for projects that enhance established curriculum, whether it’s a small garden to teach kindergarteners about seeds and plants or Unitown, a leadership program at the high school level.

“We want to make sure that students are aware of available careers, depending on their interests and academic strengths.”

– Nan Strohmaier, Board Chair, SUSD Foundation

“We never want to minimize supporting teachers in classrooms,” says Nan Strohmaier, the foundation’s board chair since June 2020. “If they have a need, we want it to be met.” 


In 2015, the foundation, whose mission is to provide every student and educator with the opportunity to achieve educational excellence, “began working in partnership with community businesses and institutions,” says Strohmaier, who has served on the foundation board since 2014.


The Initiatives program launched that year with a three-day summer workshop for teachers in partnership with TGen, the Translational Genomics Research Institute in Phoenix. Teachers were able to learn directly from cutting-edge researchers in a variety of scientific disciplines. The program continued in 2016 and has been held each summer since then.


With a focus on the clinical side of healthcare, teachers learn from leading researchers, doctors and nurses about various health-related topics. In 2020, topics included COVID-19, mental and behavioral health, technology, and virtual reality patient outreach innovation and collaboration.


In 2017, the SUSD Foundation intensified promotion of innovation and entrepreneurship. The Entrepreneurship Initiative began with construction of an Innovation Center located at Saguaro High School in the summer of 2020. The center is designed to showcase robotics and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities for students “not only for those who attend Saguaro High School,” Strohmaier says, “but throughout the Scottsdale Unified School District and the community. 


One focus of the center, which opened in November, will be enhancing opportunities for girls interested in STEM.”


The Innovation Center, she notes, “will be inclusive of all students and multidisciplinary, meaning it will welcome students of theater, the performing arts, marketing and all core subjects who are looking for a resource center where they can have hands-on experiences.”


The Innovation Center was funded largely by SUSD, the SUSD Foundation, the Farley Family Charitable Foundation and local businesses.


The foundation also has funded a black box theater for Desert Canyon Middle School; a STEM program at Ingleside Middle School; distribution of technical calculators to district students; purchase of special-education classroom equipment; and national board certification for teachers. Future initiatives for the foundation could include job shadowing and internship possibilities for students interested in hospitality, technology, construction and architecture.



And that could help middle and high school students discover a career that might otherwise be elusive for them.


“The foundation wants to work collaboratively with everyone in the Valley who can help direct and motivate students to give them ideas for career paths,” Strohmaier says. The school district, she points out, takes a strong “school to workforce approach” for students who are interested in going to college and those who aren’t.


“We want to make sure that students are aware of available careers, depending on their interests and academic strengths. If you love math, for example, you could work as a data analyst for one of many different kinds of companies,” she says, emphasizing the foundation’s work to connect students interested in particular disciplines with actual employers.


In addition, one of the newest initiatives the foundation is undertaking is sponsoring an emotional support dog “for students in SUSD who need additional mental health support,” Strohmaier says.


The foundation holds two fundraising events each year: a fall event and a spring golf tournament. The latest fall event, held in November, was a virtual trivia tournament. Four $10,000 sponsorships and a number of smaller sponsorships turned the event into a fundraising powerhouse. In 2018 and 2019, the foundation sponsored a student talent show called “Scottsdale on Stage.” Strohmaier estimates that the foundation raises about $100,000 every year and has disbursed nearly $2 million to fund various projects since 2005.


“We have a whole board of business executives from all different lines of work and from many different companies, including Cox Communications, HonorHealth, Chasse Building Team, McCarthy Building Companies, Western Alliance Bank Corporation, Nationwide Insurance, Troon, GCON, DLR Group, One Hope Wine, Olympus Corporation and Grand Canyon Home Supply,” Strohmaier says. “And these board members can help guide students onto career paths they might not otherwise have thought of.”



Story: Debra Gelbart

Photos: Mark Lipczynski