State leaders in higher education, business and government joined together on Saturday morning to wave the flag for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) opportunities for students.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds stumped for their statewide STEM initiative at the event, “A Celebration of STEM and FIRST in Iowa,” which also served to kick off the new FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) season for the region. FTC teams from schools across the state attended the celebration, held in Iowa City at the University of Iowa’s Iowa Memorial Union, and heard comments from Branstad and Reynolds as well as University of Iowa President Sally Mason and Iowa State University President Steven Leath. University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen, who co-chairs the governor’s STEM Advisory Council alongside Reynolds, was scheduled to attend but did not make it to the gathering.
Coaches for many of the teams in attendance had applied for or are planning to seek funds through the council’s Scale Up program, which gives dollars to 12 types of organizations that promote STEM-based learning experiences.
Saturday’s celebration fell just two days after the one year anniversary of Gov. Branstad’s announcement of who would serve on the council, which seeks to improve STEM education across the state, and he marked the occasion by reaffirming his commitment to the cause.
“We must help more students excel in math and science if we want to achieve our goals,” he said. “We have a shared responsibility to help every Iowa student reach their full potential.”
Members of the STEM Advisory Council, whom Reynolds said are working on devising the group’s next steps, are also charged with bringing STEM educational experiences to “underserved and underrepresented” populations such as women and people of color as well as communities that do not have large engineering- or technology-based corporations nearby.
“We recognize that there’s great STEM initiatives in Iowa, but we also recognize that they’re not reaching everyone,” Reynolds said.
She and Branstad tied STEM success to faster economic recovery for the state and boosting the quality of life for all Iowans.
“This is where the really good jobs of the future are going to be,” said the governor, who also slid in a plug for his educational reforms by mentioning the need for more “clinical experiences” in training future teachers.
The lieutenant governor also praised businesses for the “key roles” they play in partnering with public outlets to provide tools and opportunities like FTC and FIRST Lego League, another STEM-based competitive activity for students.
Executives from Rockwell Collins and John Deere were also in attendance, with Branstad calling the organizations “some of the best companies we have in Iowa.”
With their comments, Branstad and Reynolds set the stage for the statewide 14 city tour of STEM Community Conversations that the duo is set to embark on alongside UNI President Allen beginning Tuesday, Sept. 11 in Toledo.