Inspiration. Evidence. Ideas. Future vision. Those were the outcomes of the 25th meeting of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council held in Ankeny on April 20. The setting, a global precision micro-molding manufacturer, Accumold, symbolized the economic opportunities and fulfilling careers ahead for students of STEM. Under Accumold’s roof, the meeting began with eighth grade students from Okoboji Middle School profiling their school + workplace projects and the inspirational skills and ambitions baked into their experiences. Okoboji’s No Boundaries is one of 125 STEM BEST® Program models across Iowa.
Evidence of effect was next on the agenda, portrayed by lead evaluator Dr. Erin Heiden from the Center for Social and Behavioral Research at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). In a series of charts and statistics from the 2021-2022 year of STEM, she shared that youth in STEM were six percent more likely to want to live and work in Iowa. And, students of STEM performed two points higher in mathematics and three points higher in science on statewide tests. For students of color, the gains were +5 and +6. These and other data points likely lie behind her team’s finding that almost 90 percent of Iowans want STEM to be a priority in their local schools.
Ideas for continuous improvement of Council programs and reach were provided by three standing committees of the Council. The Rural STEM working group, co-chaired by Dr. Evrim Baran, Educational Technology Associate Professor at Iowa State University (ISU), and North Central Regional STEM Manager Mauree Haage recommended the Council amplify mentoring, promote the STEM teaching endorsements and target communications of STEM opportunities to rural stakeholders. They were followed by the STEM for All working group co-chaired by ISU’s Dr. Sara Nelson (represented by South Central STEM Manager Sarah Derry) and iJAG’s Carly Harper, who recommended that the Council build out a speaker series, a STEM Signing Day across Iowa and mentorships. Finally, the Youth Advisory Board (YAB), co-facilitated by John Deere executives Amber Pargmann and Allison Plunkett, featured three members of the YAB: Gabi, Eliz and Shreyas, who sought Council support for a Youth STEM Conference and advocacy for robotics teams across the state.
Concluding with future vision, the advice of Council members was sought for maximizing the merger of STEM into the Iowa Department of Education on July 1. Common themes from hundreds of inputs include expanded reach and impact, exportation of piloted best practices to other fields of study, deeper integration of STEM across the learner experience, clearly define roles and goals, preserve the hard-earned brand and innovation of the STEM Council and communicate. All while leveraging the rich assets of the Department of Education.
A bountiful harvest of guidance from a three-hour investment of time. Presentations and member inputs, as well as the agenda from the meeting, are publicly available at www.iowastem.org/archive.