Bridging the worlds of workforce and education: Iowa STEM Teacher Externships

Jenna Nobel takes on welding as part of her Iowa STEM Teacher Externship expirence
nna Noble, a teacher at George-Little Rock High School, takes on welding at Sudenga Industries as part of her Iowa STEM Teacher Externships experience.

A clarion call for educators is to link classroom content to real-life applications in the exciting world of Iowa’s workplaces. The challenge for teachers and the institutions that prepare them is to stay abreast of how their field of study applies at work beyond school walls. That is where the STEM Council’s program,Iowa STEM Teacher Externships,” and others like it come in. Secondary teachers of STEM subjects take a deep dive into the world of commerce over six weeks of summer, emerging fully-equipped to answer the perennial question, “When are we ever going to use this?”

After spending six weeks at the John Deere Des Moines Works facility, Waukee High School engineering teacher John Kotz put the experience this way: “If teachers don’t get out and see how businesses actually operate, it is hard for them to convey business operations and models to their students. Also, by experiencing the latest trends and technology, I can teach as a more informed resource.”

Kotz is one of almost 60 teachers immersed into workplace experiences through this program each summer. Over the course of seven years, 90 percent of Teacher Externs have considered the Externship their best professional development experience. Workplace Hosts, who range from manufacturers to hospitals to natural resource agencies, enjoy productivity boosts and cost savings as a result.

A supervisor at Siemens Energy in Fort Madison observed that, “Having a Teacher Extern in the plant makes a difference. Someone who is used to teaching becomes a student. That student has reason to question why we do things a certain way, causing us to look at things from a different perspective. ”

Everybody wins when Teacher Externs bridge the worlds of education and work. For information about Iowa STEM Teacher Externships and how to participate, visit

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