Government

Ivanka Trump sees 'amazing' example of hands-on learning in Iowa

First daughter and Gov. Kim Reynolds push value of STEM programs

Ivanka Trump, adviser to the president, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds are given a tour of the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center in Waukee, Iowa, Monday, March 19, 2018. The two toured the school, experienced firsthand the school's skill-focused curriculum and participated in a roundtable with students, educators, community leaders, and elected officials. The roundtable focused on the education and workforce development priorities of the Trump administration. (Pool photo by Rodney White, Des Moines Register)
Ivanka Trump, adviser to the president, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds are given a tour of the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center in Waukee, Iowa, Monday, March 19, 2018. The two toured the school, experienced firsthand the school's skill-focused curriculum and participated in a roundtable with students, educators, community leaders, and elected officials. The roundtable focused on the education and workforce development priorities of the Trump administration. (Pool photo by Rodney White, Des Moines Register)
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WAUKEE — First daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump was “really impressed” by what she saw Monday at a school innovation center where students get hands-on experience in engineering, biosciences, insurance and business technology and communications, Gov. Kim Reynolds said.

“This is an unbelievable example of innovation in education and pairing the skills being taught in the classroom environment with the jobs in demand in modern economies,” Trump said after touring labs and joining students conducting research at the Aspiring Professional Experience, or APEX, program) in Waukee. Trump visited the innovation center at the request of Reynolds, who met with President Donald Trump’s daughter earlier this winter in Washington.

“I was trying to entice her to come see in person the great things happening here in Iowa,” said Reynolds, who showed Ivanka Trump screen shots of what students are doing at the APEX Central campus as well as at Rocket Manufacturing in Rock Valley, which also is designed to give high school students hands-on, real-world experiences they can apply to what they’re learning in STEM-related courses.

Reynolds got an assist from Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, who had visited APEX in August when he announced the California tech company would build a $1.38 billion data center in Waukee. Cook called it “a jewel.”

“He had just left Iowa and must have sent me a note from the plane,” Trump said. “He said, ‘You have to go visit this facility in Iowa’ because the tour blew him away.”

Trump spent about two hours at APEX. The facility on the rural edge of Waukee, a fast-growing and affluent Des Moines suburb, looks like a Silicon Valley tech headquarters, complete with massive asymmetrical windows, a wide-open atrium strewn with eclectic seating options and classrooms that open onto the atrium with garage-style overhead doors. The classrooms and labs are identified with code words like “Hue,” “Vault,” “Obelisk” and “Enterprise.”

According to media pool reports, after hearing an overview of the school, Trump toured a robotics lab classroom for a demonstration by students.

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Students showed Trump two projects. The first, which they are working on with MidAmerican Energy, was a prototype students are developing for a wind tunnel exhibit at the Science Center of Iowa.

“This is so amazing. This is such a cool place to come. It’s going to be hard to get rid of us,” Trump said.

One student demonstrated the wind tunnel to Trump by blowing compressed air past a miniature wind turbine, and another invited her to help write code for the software operating the device.

A second group of students demonstrated a proof-of-concept model for a touch screen sensor the class is developing for a business client to use at trade shows.

For another demonstration, Trump donned a white lab coat, latex gloves and safety goggles before joining students to extract “vape juice” used in e-cigarettes to test the nicotine content.

“I can’t promise that I’ll get this right, but at least we’ll look the part, right?” Trump joked as she put on the safety glasses.

Trump and Reynolds extracted the vape juice and placed the samples in a machine to run the test. A student then invited them to take a scientific calculator to determine the nicotine content. Trump and Reynolds both deferred.

The students will present their findings on nicotine content in e-cigarettes at a scientific conference next month at Drake University.

In another demonstration, Trump looked at a two-day old zebrafish embryo under a microscope.

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After the tour, Trump and Reynolds led a roundtable discussion on workforce training and high-tech education with students, faculty, administrators, business people and government officials.

Trump outlined the administration’s commitment to a wide-ranging infrastructure bill that includes workforce development initiatives.

She noted White House efforts to encourage STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — and computer science education, and said the proposal will emphasize rural infrastructure development and rural broadband and expand the existing Perkins and Pell Grant education programs to fund more training programs. She said the Department of Labor is working on changing registration requirements for apprenticeship programs to expand access and increase their use by employers.

Reynolds and Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend told Trump states would appreciate greater flexibility in using federal money for job training and other workforce initiatives.

“We talked about the Perkins grant and the Pell grant and providing flexibility to states so we can be innovative and think outside the box,” Reynolds said later, referring to grants for students in post-high school programs.

She also talked to Trump about the importance of partnerships involving the state and its agencies and businesses “to make this work.”

“I think she got a pretty good sense of that,” Reynolds said.

They also talked about the importance of broadband connectivity, Reynolds said.

“It is an expectation of our young people,” she said, adding that in a global economy where most of the purchasing power is outside of Iowa, “We ought to be able to take an idea and turn it into a company and a very successful business no matter where you live in this state.”

Reynolds put about $2.6 million in her recommended budget for broadband infrastructure so the state would have funds to apply toward matching any federal grants.

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Twice during the roundtable, Trump brought up her interest in encouraging more women and people of color to pursue STEM careers — and her excitement in seeing so many female students in the classes she visited, according to the pool report.

“As we embark on the fourth industrial revolution, it’s critical that that trajectory changes and that more women and girls get involved in these important, lucrative, high-paying fields of the future,” she said.

Before touring the facility, Trump had a breakfast of crepes, fruit and scones at Terrace Hill, the governor’s residence, and posted photos on Instagram.

Before Trump’s arrival, Democrats gathered at a Waukee park to criticize the visit. Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price called it ironic that she and Reynolds — who is running for a full term as governor this year — would be “parading around, claiming to care about our workforce.”

“Ivanka Trump is part of the most corrupt presidential administration in history that sells the American people to the highest bidder, while her shoe line has outsourced production to factories in China notorious for labor violations,” Price said.

It was fitting that Trump and Reynolds appeared together, AFSCME President Danny Homan added, because “At every turn, Trump and Reynolds are in lockstep stripping workers’ rights and doing everything in their power to silence anyone who dares to demand the dignity and respect they deserve.”

However, the Republican Party of Iowa fired back, noting that there are “numerous” indicators of the strength of the state’s economy under Republican leadership. They include the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years and Iowa’s ranking as the No. 1 state for the middle class.

“The doom-and-gloom pitch will be a hard sell for Democrats who are working against all forms of progress,” GOP spokesman Jesse Dougherty said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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Pool reporter Jason Noble of The Des Moines Register contributed to this report.

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