When Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds visited Davenport last month for a town hall meeting about Gov. Terry Branstad’s science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, initiative, assistant engineering professor Jodi Prosise invited her to visit the engineering program at St. Ambrose University.
While in the Quad-Cities on Wednesday as she and Branstad brought their Condition of the State message to communities across Iowa, Reynolds took Prosise up on her invitation.
Reynolds toured the Davenport campus and spoke to faculty and students about the STEM initiative, which seeks to encourage young people to explore careers in science and math and help prepare them to meet the academic rigors of those fields of study.
Founded last year with a $4.7 million allocation from the Iowa Legislature, the STEM Advisory Council has divided the state into six geographic regions with hubs established at community colleges and universities in the state.
Reynolds said that Branstad is seeking another $4.7 million from the Legislature for the initiative this year to fund programs that encourage students to study math and science, teach them the necessary skills and help train teachers to more effectively teach the skills needed in Iowa’s workforce.
Reynolds said another key component of the initiative is the use of 18 evaluators for the program who are responsible for measuring the effectiveness of the initiative’s programs. Reynolds said it will take time before it can be known if the initiative is helping Iowa reach Branstad’s goal of becoming the national leader in education.
“We didn’t get to the middle of the pack in two years,” Reynolds said.
While visiting a biology classroom, Reynolds asked the group of about a dozen students how many of them planned to stay in Iowa after they graduated. When only a few raised their hands, Reynolds said another goal of the STEM initiative is to create job opportunities that will keep skilled college graduates in Iowa.
Danielle Mendez, a junior majoring in industrial engineering, said she was out of school and working in retail for six years before the volatility of the retail job market motivated her to seek a more stable career.
Mendez said her father was a mechanical and electrical engineer who used to put together circuit boards with her when she was young.
Andy Czorniak, who graduated in 2012 from St. Ambrose with a degree in industrial engineering and now works as an engineer at HON Industries in Muscatine, said he thought engineering would be a good background to have before pursuing a master’s in business administration, but he also was drawn to the field by the availability of good-paying jobs.
“You can pretty much go anywhere,” he said.