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Iowa Lakes is new ‘hub’ of learning

College is one of six centers helping to coordinate STEM learning

May 8, 2012
By David Swartz - Managing Editor , Estherville Daily News

Governor Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen recently announced the selection of six regional network hubs that will promote science, technology, engineering and math education and economic development across Iowa.

This is the first major initiative of the governor's STEM Advisory Council, whose goal is creating greater student achievement in STEM subjects and a stronger STEM workforce.

Iowa Lakes Community College was selected as the northwest hub.

Article Photos

Iowa Lakes physics professor Eric Olson demonstrates how electricity can be created with a magnet as student Sun Mudiavata watches.
EDN photo by David Swartz

Iowa Lakes Executive Dean of Instruction and Development Mark Gruwell said the hub would help make Northwest Iowa more competitive in science, technology, engineering and math.

"It's a great opportunity to coordinate STEM efforts with business, and industry and education institutions to determine needs in the area," he said.

Gruwell went on to say industry has needs of employees with science, engineering and math and some of those positions remain unfilled because of the requirements in those areas.

Fact Box

S - Science

T - Technology

E - Engineering

M - Mathematics

"In particular, business needs people with problem-solving skills and employees with science and math knowledge," he said.

Gruwell said there are a decrease in jobs that require low skill levels as well as an increase in those requiring higher skills.

"We need to retrain workers and give them the skills they need quickly," he said.

Jobs that are emerging include advanced robotics.

Gruwell said not only welding skills are needed, but the knowledge of how to program welding equipment.

"Advanced manufacturing is another area," he said. "There's more stress on technology and the ability to repair, program and operate those tools."

Abi Sedlacek, grant writer and the lead researcher of the Iowa Lakes proposal for the STEM hub, said the college's resources give it a solid foundation as a STEM leader.

She said the college has received two large science foundation grants. The Advanced Technologies Education Grant helps with staff development. The second grant funded scholarships for those studying STEM subjects.

Also, the college has recently invested money at the Spencer campus to create some labs.

Online learning

Theresa Zeigler, director of distance and global education at the college, is also on the statewide STEM subcommittee for using technology to teach STEM curriculum.

"With STEM hub, we can do more online sharing and teaching," she said.

With the Northwest hub ranging as far south as the Jefferson-Scranton School District, Zeigler noted it's one of the larger hub areas.

Dr. Bob Klepper, professor of chemistry and science, says he has taught several online classes over the past 12 years with the first in 2000.

"One of the reasons the hub is exciting is to try to get it (STEM) knowledge to more students," he said. "We'll have more opportunities out there for students."

Klepper said one of the challenges to online classes is making it feel like a class.

One of the ways he does that is to put the students into virtual groups, assign them projects and then write the report as a group.

How Iowa Lakes was chosen as a hub center

Iowa Lakes President Val Newhouse is a member of the governor's STEM Advisory Council.

The timeline for implementing the STEM hubs includes setting up the structure this summer, which includes hiring a person to head it and setting goals.

"It was articulated to us early on," she said. "We were well-positioned to take this on."

Newhouse said the college has a great combination of seasoned instructors that work well as a team.

One of those instructors, Matt Strom, talked about a one-day workshop for K-12 math teachers, which will be held this summer.

"The focus is a skills workshops for math instructors," said Strom, who teaches math at the college. "The goal is to make math more comfortable to the teachers and thus make it more comfortable for students."

That workshop is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 31 at the Estherville campus.

Eric Olson, associate professors of physics, said the hub will help provide better contacts and help learn what neighboring schools are teaching.

"The hub will expand resources," he said. "We'll learn what others are doing and have closer contact with what both the secondary schools and the universities are doing."

That will allow for even more collaboration enhancement.

Olson encourages students to take the highest-level math classes as early as possible.

"We have ways to inspire people, " he said. "If you can humanize the subject more and get people to understand the power of technology and engineering, they'll pay attention."

Olson went on to encourage those thinking of what to do for a career, that there's stability in these fields requiring a STEM education.

"There's always jobs for those with high levels of science, math and technology education," he said.

Kyle Norris, an assistant professor of science and athletic trainer, said the biggest impact is an expansion of the projects the college has started.

Currently, the biology department has a loaner project where they take equipment like microscopes and slides and make packages for home schools and regular schools.

Norris reiterated that the hub would allow a partnership with industry and K-12 schools to push forward.

"The purpose as educators is to get students excited about science," he said. "In our area, one of the biggest needs is physical therapists and occupational therapists.

"STEM allows communication between other science departments," he continued. "We want every K-12 student to have access to this knowledge."



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