Governor's STEM Advisory Council Discusses Education Opportunities

By Hayley Bruce, Reporter

IOWA CITY, Iowa - Just over one year after Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced the formation of the Governor's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Advisory Council, the group is already hoping to ensure all schools across the state have an equal opportunity to develop a program.

And starting Wednesday August 15th, teachers will be able to begin applying for various STEM Scale-Up programs on the advisory's website through an application process.

But that change is just one of many to come following the advisory council's meeting in Iowa City on Tuesday afternoon. Within the next few years, those with the program have also recommended more inter-agency coordination to expand more STEM-related learning opportunities.

The council was created in July 2011 with the goal of raising student achievement in STEM areas, improving teachers, and guiding students through math and science courses and into careers that help develop the economy.

Tuesday, Jeffrey Weld, executive director of the STEM Advisory Council, said the group also hopes to standardize professional development opportunities throughout the state so all teachers have the ability to be the best they can be, and students have an equal opportunity to obtain quality education in STEM areas.

"I'm shocked that we can go from Anchorage, Alaska to Tampa and get a Big Mac and it will be the same good Big Mac wherever you're at. You can go to an orthopedic surgeon in Portland, Main or San Diego and have an ACL repair at the same quality, but that can not be said, anywhere else, about teaching," said Weld. "The quality of teaching is a happenstance birthright and we can't have that -- just because you're born in a locale of great academic riches, you get a great experience. It's unsustainable."

Other recommendations discussed Tuesday included building a website to house best-practices for STEM education, establishing STEM-focused schools, increasing public awareness of supporting STEM through multimedia messaging, and incentivizing Iowa businesses to commit resources -- such as employees and facilities -- to STEM education.

Jenny Becker, director of community relations with Rockwell Collins, said the company has been involved with STEM education outreach for more than 20 years, adding that partnership is important to both the future of Rockwell Collins' workforce and the economy as a whole.

"As we look to the future of our company, it's imperative that we support communication to have the best education system that we can possibly have," Becker said. "In addition, it's the the STEM education initiatives that will provide us with the workforce of the future, so its really the development of that future type of STEM-literate young people that we are concerned with."

And for those working in STEM education directly with students like Dan Niemitalo, a science teacher who works with students in the FIRST Robotics Challenge at Linn-Marr High School, the positive result that STEM-focused programs provide to students is obvious.

"These students end up learning a lot of new skills and they also find a good social group and that's important.They learn a lot of team work and then when they go to find a job that's all their employers want to hear about, you know, 'Tell me about your robotics stuff.'" said Niemitalo. "They're into it and you can see them growing into their ability to solving problems."
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