By Jeffrey Weld
Iowa has rapidly become a national leader in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education. Across the state, hundreds of educators are introducing thousands of learners to the thrill of
Middle schoolers at St. Theresa in Des Moines, for example, are applying mathematics to make scale models of home furnishings. “My parents … can’t believe we’re doing engineering in eighth grade” said a budding architect. “We’ve been STEM-ed!” said her principal, Ellen Stemler.
In Sioux City, an after-school computer club was quickly adopted at all three high schools after district leaders witnessed the techie enthusiasm of the student body. From Keokuk to Cresco to Council Bluffs and almost 900 points in between, tried- and-true STEM programs are rolling out through the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council to STEM educators so that they can impact and inspire 100,000 young Iowans this year.
State leaders are aggressively responding to an economic imperative to support and grow our vital STEM industry sector. By uniting businesses with schools to deliver top-drawer STEM programs, we are priming the STEM career pipeline with more interested and able youngsters. What awaits them are an estimated 72,000 STEM jobs to be filled by 2018, four times the employment opportunity of other fields. STEM graduates will be highly sought after considering the number of job openings in the areas of information technology, financial systems, medical/agricultural science and advanced manufacturing outnumber qualified candidates by more than 3 to 1.
Evaluation of council programming in year one showed participants outperformed their peers in math and science on state tests and expressed more interest in STEM subjects and careers. We are on our way.
States and nations are vying for STEM talent to fuel innovative knowledge economies, but I would argue that Iowa is out in front. Texas has launched a number of STEM-focused schools; California has scaled up proven STEM programs through museums and zoos; Kentucky has created a teaching license in STEM; New York has built a STEM network system; and North Carolina launched an ad campaign — “Got STEM?”
Iowa, in just more than two years of council existence, has done all of this and more. Our council competitively awarded support to a handful of Iowa schools modeling transformations to a STEM focus through cutting-edge curriculum, technology and community engagement. We have taken the Massachusetts STEM scale-up model to an extreme its designers could only dream of — from their half-dozen schools to California’s 250 informal participants to Iowa’s 887 in- and out-of-school partners.
We have five new STEM license models making their way through the Board of Educational Examiners. Our council created a statewide regional STEM Network staffed by STEM experts housed at competitively awarded institutions gratefully serving as Hubs: Iowa Lakes Community College, Southwestern Community College, Drake University, Iowa State University, University of Iowa jointly with Kirkwood Community College, and the University of Northern Iowa.
And we are partnering with cost-matching public relations firm Strategic America to get the story out that greatness STEMs from Iowans. Our progress has been noticed by the National Science Foundation, which endorsed Iowa’s STEM initiative by granting our evaluators a first-of-its-kind $1.2 million grant to study and then disseminate to other states how statewide STEM education works.
As much as Iowa’s STEM Council has accomplished to date, much remains to be done. How we go about preparing and supporting STEM educators is under study. How we can continue to diversify the STEM talent pipeline by drawing more women and underrepresented minorities is a consensus goal. And building private-public partnerships in every Iowa community to sustain the Council’s work is an ongoing priority.
Iowa leads the nation in STEM through the visionary leadership of council co-chairs Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds and Vermeer Co. CEO Mary Andringa, the group of 46 STEM Council members — teachers, university and community college leaders, business and industry executives, non-profit heads, and policymakers, Iowa’s six regional STEM managers and their advisory boards, the 400 STEM professionals contributing to task forces and, most of all, the Iowa Legislature upon which STEM garners bipartisan support. They’ll not rest until every Iowan is “STEM-ed.”
Additional information about the council can be found at www.IowaSTEM.gov.Jeffrey Weld is executive director, Governor’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Advisory Council. Comments: Weld@IowaSTEM.gov