Branstad, officials gather for STEM, FIRST kickoff


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The University of Iowa is pairing up with Kirkwood Community College to work with the statewide-implemented STEM Program to help local school districts improve in the subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.

“I can think of no better act today than the kinds of things that you’re involved in,” UI President Sally Mason said. “We not only have to prepare students for this future, but also we have to inspire them.”

Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Mason, Iowa State President Steven Leath, FIRST Chief of Programming Ken Johnson, and Rockwell Collins Vice President J.P. Besong gathered at the IMU on Sept. 8 to celebrate the FIRST and STEM programs in Iowa.

Branstad signed the STEM program into law on May 4 and created the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council to oversee the implementation of the program across Iowa. The program is now made up of 12 different programs targeting science, technology, engineering, and math with two of the programs being the FIRST Tech and FIRST LEGO programs.

“We are setting the table for great things to come in the future. Everyone in this room today knows that we all need to work together to strengthen STEM education in Iowa,” Branstad said.  “Iowa students stand together for a great STEM education and Iowa’s economy will also grow faster as a result of it.”

The STEM program is broken up into six different regions or hubs across the state, and each received nearly $500,000 for funding for this upcoming year. In the UI's region, the UI and Kirkwood Community College are both partners for funding and will be working with local school districts to allocate funding to the school district’s programs.

“One of the goals of the STEM advisory council is to be sure that we serve underrepresented, underserved,” Reynolds said. “We recognize that there’s great STEM initiatives already taking place in Iowa, but what we also recognize is that they’re not reaching all students.”

Organizations and school districts can apply for funding up to next Monday and accepted applications will be notified on Oct. 1. The funds granted will cover materials, teacher stipends, travel, and technology for programs.

David Andersen, a UI professor of engineering, worked in the past with local school districts on STEM projects.

‘It’s a good way to get students involved with the faculty and help them to understand engineering,’ he said. ‘The University of Iowa supports us [engineering department] in these kinds of events. I think the guts of the program, teaching science and math to the students, is very important.’

STEM is a focal point in Iowa targeted for improvement.

‘What we’re hoping is to have an educated workforce to meet the needs of the economy as we continue to grow and bring business to the state of Iowa,’ Reynolds said. ‘We want to make sure that we have a skilled workforce ready to meet those needs.’

The celebration was also a kickoff event for the For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology competition season — founded by Dean Kamen, the creator of the Segway — and had more than 450 students from across the state participating.

Rockwell Collins is the official sponsor of the program. The UI hosts the FIRST competition at the IMU every February where students compete against one another in various competitions.

“The point of all this is that while technology is going to allow our economy and our country to grow that increases the technology change the fastest now that it has ever been in our lifetimes,” Johnson said. “What that means is that this generation, the generation that we’re trying to impact with these initiatives is the most important generation of our time — of human kind … So the adjustments that Iowa is making are some of the most important adjustments that can be made.”

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