Greatness STEMs from Iowans
by Jeremy Esparza – William Penn
Sarah Derry, a graduate of Drake University and the South Central Regional STEM manager, gave a speech on February 15, 2017 in regards to how the STEM Advisory Council is working to build a better transition from education to the workplace environment throughout the state of Iowa. “As the Regional Manager since 2013, Derry supports the efforts of the Iowa STEM Council, and spends many nights and weekends running festivals and helping with other activities.” Derry currently holds a degree in genetics from Iowa State University, along with a Ph.D. in developmental biology from the University of Iowa. Throughout the course of her career, Derry has been actively involved in research in different laboratory settings. Derry began her career as a science teacher in an urban-area high school.
STEM is an acronym for the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. According to iowa.gov, “The main goal Iowa governor’s STEM Advisory Council is to increase STEM interest and how achievement is critical to regenerating Iowa’s historic legacy as a leader in education and workforce development.” David Meinart, a professor of business at William Penn University was enlightened by the speech that was given by Derry. “I knew very little, I knew what STEM was, but I had no idea that this program was funded through the state.” Derry and the rest of the Iowa STEM Council has been working to raise a tremendous amount of awareness of the benefits of STEM since its founding. “The whole reason we exist is to help prime the pipeline to get these STEM workers in the state of Iowa to grow our own economy and support our business here at home.” According to Derry, STEM jobs provide favorable futures. Derry believes that individuals in the various fields of STEM have higher quality of life compared to those not in the different fields of STEM. “There are good pay, good benefits, good hours, and flexibility for those in the STEM fields”, says Derry.
Through her work, Derry has found that there is a wide array of job opportunities for students involved with STEM. “We consider ourselves an economic development intuitive that acts through education”, says Derry. There are various things that the STEM Council is doing to grow STEM interest and excitement among students throughout the state of Iowa. Derry believes that establishing valuable partnerships is crucial to the success of students. The STEM Scale Up Program is the signature program of the Iowa STEM Advisory Council. “Rather than reinventing the wheel, we cast our nets widely and put out calls to people who already have programs that are engaging and exciting in pre-K through twelve to help ignite that fire in STEM with kids.” Derry believes that community support is crucial to the success of STEM programs throughout the state of Iowa, along with the country as well.
The Iowa STEM Advisory Council believes that along with the students that engage in various STEM related activities, the entire population benefits from it. As more and more students begin to actively participate in STEM events, the individuals have a spark of interest, which in turn is beneficial to the population. Derry believes that STEM can eventually lead to higher job placement in the state of Iowa. “In the state of Iowa, there are over 250,000 STEM jobs projected to exist by 2022. In 2015, there were an estimated 8,500 vacancies in STEM jobs statewide. About 15% of Iowa’s occupations in general exist in STEM fields. Last year, there were almost 9,000 vacancies in STEM jobs.”
Through the various initiatives that the STEM Council has done, Derry states that they have seen increases in science, mathematics, and reading. “A positive impact is important to sustain the various programs offered by the STEM Council”, says Derry. According to the STEM Advisory Council, minorities students that participated in the STEM scale up program scored an average of ten points higher than the national percentile rank in math and science, compared to other minority students that did not participate in the program.
The Iowa STEM BEST Program is another initiative brought forth by the Iowa STEM Advisory Council. BEST is an acronym for Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers. This program unites business with education. Derry and the Iowa STEM Advisory Council believes that this program is beneficial to students because it allows students to learn in the workplace environment. Derry states that industry professionals can give students real world experience along with implementing the culture of work in STEM related fields.
Although a large sum of the audience was satisfied with the speech given by Derry, there were a few that were still confused about the STEM Advisory Council. Stephen Tews, a retired auto machinist, believed that internships, apprenticeships and their various opportunities should have been implemented more throughout the presentation. “I heard about a company located in Des Moines that offered hiring people as apprentices. After learning the trade and getting paid, in a few years you have a skilled trade. They are not emphasizing that at all.” Tews still has some misconceptions about STEM and its main purpose. “It’s still a little fuzzy. There was an awful lot of nice talk and not too much detail.”
Throughout the course of the speech, Derry explained the important role that the STEM Advisory Council plays to the future of education in the state of Iowa. An overwhelmingly majority of the audience believed that STEM education is a vital aspect to developing education in the state. Meinart believes that a lot of the job opportunities in Iowa relate to careers that are STEM related.