Despite the recent focus on science, technology, engineering and math, Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday he is concerned that only 26 percent of Iowans are aware of STEM education and its vital link to the good-paying jobs and careers of the future.
Branstad said currently, about 10,000 Iowa jobs in the STEM areas are unfilled due to a lack of workers with the higher-end skills needed in the advanced fields, and that problem could be exacerbated in the future unless more students understand the importance of developing critical-thinking skills in the classroom.
“We’re priming the STEM career pipeline with more capable, competent young people,” Branstad said, by placing increased emphasis via a public-private partnership that is expected to serve nearly 100,000 Iowa students through programs directed by a 45-member council and six STEM education hubs around the state. He said the effort includes encouraging more girls and under-represented minorities to pursue STEM courses and to expand opportunities in STEM study areas in rural parts of the state.
While the program is catching on with students, educators and business leaders, Branstad worried the general public, especially parents, does not understand the importance of STEM education in the evolving workplace.
“If you take a survey and ask the average Iowans, they don’t have a clue what STEM stands for, so we need to increase that public awareness,” the governor told a news conference at Greenwood Elementary School, where he met with children in STEM programs that emphasize group work, problem solving, practical applications and the blending of subjects like students eventually will encounter in the work environment.
To bolster public awareness, state officials have embarked on a campaign that includes a new “Greatness STEMs from Iowans” brand and logo, public service announcements, television and billboard advertisements and customized presentations that will hit full stride in 2014. The campaign is funded by a $151,000 state appropriation and a $160,000 match from Strategic America, a West Des Moines firm, in time spent for implementing the marketing and communications effort.
Branstad administration officials projected that STEM-related job growth would increase by 16 percent in the next 10 years due to the recovering economy and America’s growing reliance on technology.
“This STEM initiative is one of our administration’s top priorities,” Branstad said at Monday’s news conference. “Our goal is regaining Iowa’s education leadership in education, and STEM is a springboard towards that end.”