A trio of dignitaries, including the head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a U.S. Senator and Iowa's lieutenant governor descended on Bettendorf Wednesday to promote science and math education.

The group at the Bettendorf High School Performing Arts Center included Sen. Charles Grassley, who was introduced to cheering students; Michelle Lee, who is the first woman to lead the U.S. Patents office, and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who is co-chair of the Iowa's STEM Advisory Council.

Each one promoted STEM — or in Bettendorf's case, STEAM — educational initiatives. STEM is science, technology, engineering and math topics. In Bettendorf and some other districts around the state, STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

Lee, who said being the first woman leading the patents office is a privilege, described STEM jobs and careers as fun and engaging. In addition, she noted U.S. firms want to hire STEM graduates for jobs with high salaries and benefits.

There are 500,000 unfilled tech jobs in America, Lee said, noting STEM jobs are both fun and challenging. For her part, Lee formerly worked for Google, where she participated in developing Google Maps and Google Earth.

"Google is a very cool company," she said.

Lee, a graduate of Stanford University as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, got her start in STEM by helping her father to install a security network in the family home.

Iowa is a leader in STEM in the United States, Reynolds said. "We Iowans love STEM and take it very seriously," she said. 

The lieutenant governor saluted the Bettendorf Community School District, noting it had started 34 programs on the topic since 2012. She said interest in STEM has grown in the five years since the state initiatives were launched.

Cara Mastanduno, 16, a BHS junior, discussed her interest in engineering, which started in middle school when she joined a robotics program.

"I want to solve problems about something I'm passionate about," she said.

Mastanduno described the subject as challenging. She noted that tools at Bettendorf make engineering projects easier, including several 3D printers available to students.

Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the committee has jurisdiction over the patents office and works to protect intellectual property rights. He also said he supports of Lee's work to get more young people, including young women, involved in STEM.

Lee said STEM topics are important in every part of the United States and at all demographic levels. "We need to nurture all the talent we have," she said.

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