Ten years ago, ten Iowa workplaces took a leap of faith, inviting high school STEM teachers into shops, plants, labs, worksites and offices for six-week externships. Powered by an exploratory grant from Iowa’s Economic Development Authority to the STEM Council’s precursor the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership , employers including Kemin Industries, Pella Corporation, Allen Hospital, DNR and Polk County Conservation helped forge a potent model for teacher professional development.
The National Science Foundation invested $1.2 million in the concept to expand and research its impact from 2011 to 2014, when evidence compelled the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council to pick it up as a public-private partnership. Today, participation by the business sector and applications from educators are at all-time highs thanks to ever-increasing private sector cost-sharing.
This summer, hundreds of educators applied for about 80 placements at 58 workplaces, ranging from manufacturing (Collins Aerospace, Accumold, Vermeer, John Deere, Rosenboom, Geater, Merrill, Pella and more), to food and health (Kemin, Barrilla, Max Yield, Unity Point, Allen, Bayer and more), to natural resources (DNR, County Conservation, Neal Smith, Omaha Zoo, Hartman Reserve, Des Moines Parks, Tallgrass Prairie Center, Mississippi River Museum and more), to technology (Caseys, IPTV, ACT, POET, Workiva and others).
Iowa’s model has been exported to numerous regions and states across the nation, including Florida, Oklahoma, Idaho and Virginia. Of the nearly 600 Iowa teachers who have taken part, more than 90 percent consider it their most powerful professional development experience. Over 90 percent of workplace hosts benefited from the teachers’ contributions. Additional information about the program participants, projects and impact may be found at https://www.iowastem.gov/externships.