The concept of STEM is beginning to leave a footprint in the education and business sectors of southeast Iowa. Over the course of the past several years, Iowa has seen an insurgence of science, technology, engineering and mathematics engagement in primary, secondary and post-secondary education. Next steps: Growing our little pockets of excellence and engaging more champions on a broader level.

I have been serving as the regional manager of the Southeast STEM region under the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council for the past four years, watching STEM in the region continue to grow and impact lives. In my role as the Southeast regional manager, I’m charged with creating a strong STEM workforce and spurring economic growth. Iowa is a national leader in the STEM conversation, and as our approach to STEM becomes broader and more systemic, the sustainability of STEM efforts in our state becomes that much stronger.

Each year, the STEM Council awards STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students & Teachers) schools across the state that demonstrate excellence in bridging education programs into business applications. The southeast region of Iowa was home to four out of the five awarded schools in 2014; one of the three in 2015; three of the 10 in 2017; and now five of the 19 for 2018, just recently announced. But these aren’t just numbers; these are relationships between local businesses and school classrooms that lead to pre-apprenticeships, internships and in-state jobs for our students and graduates.

The STEM Council began in 2011 through a leadership mandate to raise awareness and interest in STEM education across the state to help keep our students competitive with peers around the world. Since its inception, the STEM Council has been able to reach nearly each school in our region, giving our students’ access to STEM across all grade levels. Instead of hearing stories about educators struggling to get buy-in from local businesses to offer their students a work-based learning environment, our businesses and citizens are becoming “community catalysts.” And our STEM story is being shared.

But what does this “broader approach to STEM” look like? One of the ways in which the southeast region is piloting the mission and goals of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council is through our Southeast Iowa STEM Innovation Fund. This fund is a financial resource pool, made available from local private donors, available to organizations with ideas for innovative STEM programs; now that’s what I call buy-in. It is meant to serve as an incubator for activities outside current or past council programming. We’ve awarded five programs to scale since January and will begin to evaluate these programs in December.

The next step in broadening our approach to STEM and in making STEM a no-brainer for our school districts and businesses is deepening the exposure to all students. We cannot rely on test scores alone to determine the futures of our students; instead, let’s increase exploratory courses in middle and high school for students of all achievement levels to gain exposure to the wide variety of STEM careers available to them. The transformation experiences I have witnessed in some students realizing there is a perfect fit for them in manufacturing, bio-tech or another STEM career field; there’s nothing like it. And we need more of those moments.

We have many exciting opportunities planned for the rest of 2017 and for 2018, and we want you to join us. Please reach out, get involved and stay up-to-date on STEM news in the southeast region by connecting with us on Twitter (@STEM_SE_Iowa), Facebook (STEM Hub – SE Iowa) or visiting www.se.iowastem.org.

 

Kristine Bullock of North Liberty, Iowa, is the Southeast Regional STEM Manager of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and is based at the University of Iowa and Kirkwood Community College.

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