STEM education touted in Iowa

Gov. Branstad issued executive order creating initiative 3 years ago

DES MOINES — An Iowa program designed to cultivate students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and math is beginning to pay dividends, education and political leaders said Monday.

Shelly Vanyo, a science teacher at Boone High School, said the STEM learning initiative has enabled her to create a collaborative, problem-solving environment. She said her students have learned about energy conservation, wind turbine technology and other components of renewable energy.

“My students were able to see firsthand that what they were learning led to multiple career opportunities, how they can compete globally and how they can be a global citizen and learner,” Vanyo said.

Vanyo touting a program of more than 3,000 classrooms and clubs that involves more than 100,000 young Iowans, said the interest and enthusiasm in STEM activities has drawn notice in her community and beyond.

“My students have been sought out by local and state businesses and they also have been sought out by professors to come in and showcase how they are learning in this high school situation,” she said. “We’ve even been asked to participate in worldwide conferences.”

Vanyo was part of a news conference where the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council released a report evaluating the impact of STEM education efforts across the state, The report noted that students participating in STEM Scale-Up programs reported more interest in STEM topics and STEM careers afterward.

Gov. Terry Branstad said the change is significant since STEM-related jobs pay higher wages and will be in greater demand going forward. In the past three years, the STEM initiative has helped to create a network of partners with hub institutions in six regions of Iowa that have helped launch STEM-focused classrooms, STEM teacher licenses, community STEM festivals, STEM connections between business and education, and a STEM awareness campaign, among other innovations that have made Iowa a national leader, the governor noted.

Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds highlighted elements of the STEM initiative tied to an executive order he issued three years ago, but Democrats noted the effort dates back to the Culver administration. The Legislature created the STEM program during the 2008 session.

At that time, the legislation included $4 million for the University of Northern Iowa for a STEM Initiative to improve mathematics and science performance of Iowa students, to prepare more high-quality math and science teachers for Iowa’s schools, and to promote statewide collaboration and cooperation in math and science education.

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