Retired UI prof 'educates to innovate'


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One week before her friend's wedding, Gina Schatteman was riding her bike when a car backed into her. The collision broke her leg and put her in a wheelchair while she recovered. But that didn't stop her.

Seven days later, she participated in the wedding. It's that kind of persistence that friends say defines Schatteman's life.

"She always carries through with whatever she does," said the bride, Rebecca Hartley.

Schatteman is a University of Iowa associate professor emeritus in the Health and Human Physiology Department, and one of her largest projects is working with the White House initiative "Educate to Innovate."

The national program is designed to increase and improve American students' skills and participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — or STEM.

Schatteman helped develop the program while she was in Washington, D.C., working for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving science worldwide.

The 56-year-old said she came up with the program's name, "Educate to Innovate."

"It was so cool when I heard [President Obama] giving a speech and using my name," she said.

The idea behind the project is to pair up professionals with schools to help them enhance their participation in activities such as science experiments.

"The whole concept of it was to kind of wake up people about the importance of STEM education," she said.

Schatteman is dedicated to improving skills in the United States, because the country used to have one of the most educated workforces in the world, but that isn't the case anymore.

"Year by year by year, we're getting worse," she said. "We're doing really badly."

According to the World Economic Forum, the U.S. is ranked 48th in the quality of math and science education.

"Without education in the STEM field, we can't create new things," she said.

The high-school dropout said she was always interested in science because it challenged her. She recalled a particular moment while she was living in Germany and attending a science summer camp.

"I had always been the smart one in the class," Schatteman said. "We did these problems, and I couldn't figure it out. I kind of fell in love with it at this point."

Because of her father's job in the military, Schatteman moved often. She was born in Ohio, moved to Illinois, then to Germany, and then back to Illinois.

After dropping out of high school because she was uninterested in school, she attended an experimental college and then Johns Hopkins University for a Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry.

Schatteman moved to Iowa with her husband in 1998 and worked in the UI Health and Human Physiology Department doing research and teaching classes. Though she is technically retired, she hasn't exactly slowed down.

Schatteman is the director of the Iowa STEM festival, which will take place Sept. 18 in Coralville. Iowa will be the first state to host its own festival, which will include booths with experiments and hands-on activities for kids.

Cynthia Allen, a close friend and former coworker of Schatteman's, said the professor's enduring passion for science and furthering education is admirable.

"She goes full tilt and follows through on everything," Allen said.

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