Saying it was the biggest turnout they've seen yet, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen were among those hearing the early success stories of the STEM initiative Friday at Iowa Lakes Community College.
Appropriately hosted in the college Wind Turbine and Energy Technology building, a host of grant recipients in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics stepped forward to tell how STEM is improving their education, and ultimately, their future.
Iowa Lakes is one of six regional hubs in Iowa to host the STEM initiative.
University of Northern Iowa President Ben Allen and Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds heard Spirit Lake High School students Barron Gustafson, Nicolas Bainbridge and Connor Kuiper talk about their course— the Virtual Reality Education Pathfinder — after a presentation on the STEM program Friday at the Iowa Lakes Community College Wind Turbine and Energy Technology building.
"We're seeing representatives from so many different members of our community," said Northwest Iowa STEM Coordinator Kari Webb, based in Estherville.
Webb particularly recognized STEM Advisory Council members.
"These individuals will be key as we move the initiative forward," Webb said.
Webb introduced Iowa Lakes wind energy student Ben Hoolahan who in turn introduced Lt. Gov. Reynolds.
"We have hit the ground running and in a short period of time we have gotten a lot done," said Reynolds, who co-chairs the STEM advisory council with Allen. Reynolds said a major goal is to create interest in science and engineering which is linked to economic development.
"It's about closing the achievement gap," said Reynolds. "It's about growing jobs."
Reynolds reviewed the steps leading up to Gov. Terry Branstad's executive order creating the STEM Advisory Council in 2001.
"Together we face a STEM challenge not only for the jobs of today but for the jobs of the future," Reynolds said, noting that 51 percent of the class of 2012 is college-ready for math while 38 percent is ready for college science.
"We have a shared responsibility in helping every student in Iowa reach their potential," said Reynolds.
Acknowledging the $4.7 million legislative appropriation for STEM last year, Reynolds said each of the six hubs received more than $500,000 last year, with hub managers working with business and industry for additional funding.
While the STEM Advisory Council expected 300 STEM grant applications, Reynolds said there were more than 900 - the success of which she attributed to STEM hub managers.
Taking the podium, Allen noted Reynolds had been recognized in Washington, D.C. as one of the top 100 women in the STEM area. Allen also noted three of the hubs were based at community colleges.
Allen said work groups had made six recommendations to the council:
n Professional development.
n Teacher preparation.
n Sharing best practices.
n STEM-focused schools.
n Public awareness.
n Business incentives.
The gathering heard from Tina Sherrill, facilitator at Spirit Lake High School for a group of students who created and teach their own course - Virtual Reality Education Pathfinder.
Barron Gustafson, one of the students conducting the course, told how he had successfully applied for the STEM grant to study three-dimensional imaging.
The group also heard from other STEM grant recipients who told how the projects they were able to develop helped them learn how to work together as a team. Other benefits were bringing engineering courses to the high-school curriculum - something that has never happened before.
"Showing leadership to our girls is so important," said Linda Bisgaard, director of the Girl Scouts for western Iowa. "It's just so exciting to see how all our people have been coming together and doing it together."
Mark Gruwell, Iowa Lakes executive dean of instruction, recognized the key role of Abbie Sedlacek, STEM grant writer, and the initiative that began at Iowa Lakes several years ago. Gruwell said a survey at the Clay County Fair showed that 93 percent of those surveyed believed STEM skills were important for students.
When Gruwell asked Reynolds to project where STEM will be five years from now, she said the STEM Advisory Council will continue to work with business and industry as it looks for statewide funding, in addition to another request for a legislative appropriation.
Kim Campbell, Iowa Lakes TRIO Talent Search advisor, reflected on the 35 middle-school students who attended the STEM camp this summer. "We exposed those middle-schools students to science, technology, engineering and math," Campbell said.
Reynolds said the advisory council wants to continue to take the STEM initiative into the middle and lower grades.
Dan Lutat, director of the Iowa Lakes wind energy program, said one question he hears continually is about putting real-life tools and technology into students' hands. "That's the key right there," said Lutat, asking what role the STEM initiative would have in that area.
"They really area stepping up, Reynolds said of business and industry. "We need businesses driving this initiative because it can really inspire these kids."
Allen said another STEM initiative benefit is an externship program which takes high-school teachers into corporations and business to work for six to seven weeks, making a better connection between the classroom and career readiness.
When former Rep. Marcie Frevert asked about the involvement of professional developers, Allen said that is one of the key goals. And Reynolds said Debbie Durham, Iowa director of economic development, is a member of the advisory council.
"We have people at the top sitting on the board," Reynolds said.
After remarks, everyone had the chance to visit with students and teachers who had received STEM grants.