Letter to the Editor

Guest Commentary

Monday, November 27, 2017

A beacon of STEM in Iowa

Sharing the STEM Story

We are striving every day to make northwest Iowa a beacon for STEM in Iowa, and we are well on our way. This kind of goal requires all hands-on deck, an eager board of STEM-passionate individuals and the ability to promote STEM in every capacity, all of which we have. I used to have to explain the acronym of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) to most people that I worked with, but now itís a matter of keeping up with the demand for STEM in our schools; and itís a great problem to have.

The Iowa Governorís STEM Advisory Council was created in 2011 through a leadership mandate to raise interest and awareness of STEM education across the state and help grow the stateís STEM-literate workforce pipeline. I stepped into the regional manager role for the northwest STEM region just this past March, but even after almost a year, I am constantly inspired by the way students are using their own voices to advocate for STEM education and changing the environments of our schools. Scale-Up programs, offered through the Council, are a great example of this evolving environment. They offer a menu of programs to schools across the state that range from building robots to conducting agricultural field experiences to learning about new STEM careers.

I come from a teaching background, having worked as a technology specialist at Kuemper Schools in Carroll and as a first-grade teacher who implemented STEM Scale-up programs in her classroom. I am a firm believer in implementing STEM programs and curriculum into younger classrooms and starting our students early in the understanding of STEM concepts and opportunities, evident in the number of early- and elementary-education Scale-Up programs we have in our region. It is an honor to be able to offer these specific and dynamic STEM opportunities to the students in our state. As of this past year, I am also proud to say that all public schools in northwest Iowa have received a Scale-Up program.

STEM BEST (businesses engaging students and teachers) programming has an equally large impact on students, educators and businesses in our corner of the state. STEM BEST Recipient Rock Valley High School has been given funding from the STEM Council to partner with Rocket Manufacturing in a collaborative educational environment. As they are continuing to partner with other local businesses in the manufacturing community, students have begun welding fences and gates for area farms, as well as goal posts of community soccer leagues. This type of business and education partnership reaches students where they are and engages those students in collaborative and fun ways. I have seen these exact students light up as they realize that this type of work can be their career, which enhances the economic development of our region and state and provides a path for another young professional.

The next step for STEM growth in our region is continued professional development. The STEM Council held a STEM Professional Development Palooza session this summer for teachers across the state, setting a good foundation and precedent for conversations amongst STEM educators. Weíve seen where this type of training works and doesnít work and have identified that STEM professional development needs to be hands-on, in demand and continuous in order to be beneficial.

In the next few months, we have a couple of exciting things coming up including a STEM festival in Sheldon, one in Carroll (which will be our first STEM festival partnered with DMACC) over the holiday break at the end of the year, amongst other Iowa State Extension festivals. We will also be hosting a Cinco de Mayo event in Denison and another Women in STEM festival at Iowa Lakes over spring break. Visit www.iowalakes.edu/STEM for more information on Northwest STEM, or stay up-to-date by connecting with us on Facebook (NW STEM) or Twitter (@NWIowaSTEM).

Mary Trent is the northwest regional STEM manager of the Iowa Governorís STEM Advisory Council and is based at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville. She can be reached at mtrent.iowalakes.edu@gmail.com or 712-362-8341.