Bridging the Skills Gap by Linking Business and Education

By: Chad Janzen, Rock Valley Community School District

Iowa’s businesses, particularly manufacturing, are finding employees in short supply. In addition to the lack of employees, businesses are also finding hires lacking in the necessary skills. According to the 2018 Workforce Needs Survey, 56% of applicants lack the necessary qualifications. The skills gap is alarming considering 53% of the skills gap is related to middle-skill jobs (2018 Occupational Employments Statistics).

To meet the growing needs of its own community, Rock Valley Community School District was awarded a STEM BEST Grant in 2014. The district used these funds to build Rocket Manufacturing, a fully-functioning, self-sustaining, student-run manufacturing business.  Students work and learn in a collaborative environment performing a variety of jobs. These jobs include marketing, accounting, using architectural software to design parts per customers’ specifications, and building parts employing automated machines such as a CNC mill and lathe, plasma tables and welders.

Students also develop the 21st Century and employability skills employers seek such as creativity, critical thinking, flexibility, accountability. Communication skills are developed through written, electronic and oral communication for students who work on the business side of the program. Students must be creative and flexible when working with business finances. Accountability skills are developed quickly when meeting deadlines in the real world.

The success of Rocket Manufacturing could not have been accomplished without the help of business partnerships.  Here are some of the keys to building essential school-business partnerships:

  • Focus on how you can help businesses rather than on how they can help you.
  • Find a business partner or two to be your cheerleader.
  • Financial assistance may be needed, but discuss that last.
  • Utilize your city and local economic development corporation.

Visit the Rocket Manufacturing Website at Click on the media link to hear specific information and success stories about the program. More information can be found on Facebook at Read more about Bridging the Skills Gap by Linking Business and Education

What the I.O.W.A. STEM Teacher Award Brings to a Classroom

Q&A with Ann Gritzner


Earlier this year, the 2019 I.O.W.A STEM Teacher Award recipients were announced. These six outstanding educators represent different parts of the state, but they all share an infectious passion for teaching STEM. Their work inspires their students to explore science, technology, engineering and math all while preparing them for some of the most in-demand jobs in Iowa’s future workforce. 

Ann Gritnzer, science teacher and Project Based Learning leader at Central Community School District in Elkader, was one of the six teachers recognized in 2019. With the award comes $1,500 for each teacher’s classroom, along with another $1,500 for personal use. What can that award do for a classroom? Turns out, quite a lot. 

What was the first thing you bought for your classroom with your award?

In October, I moved into a brand-new, remodeled classroom. Because of that, my classroom needs were small, but this gives my students a chance to look at our wish list instead. There have been several improvements suggested for our compost project, like magnetic silverware catch for the compost collection and condiment pumps to reduce plastic waste. Other students are looking into a classroom beehive.

We did spend a little money on rebar,a steel reinforcing rod in concrete and lumber to pour a concrete pad for our compost pile. The concrete was covered by a S.W.A.P. Grant from the Iowa DNR, but we needed some additional materials not covered in the grant.

The best is yet to come! 

What impact do you feel like this award will have on your classroom and students?

As a teacher, it’s always amazing to be recognized for what we do every day. To be nominated by a parent and to have so many former students and community members come support me was very gratifying.  

I think this award increased my excitement for teaching and hopefully, students will feed off my increased energy. I think it has also changed the perception of STEM education in my district. I think we will see an increase in resources for STEM education from both schools and community.

What advice do you have for teachers who are nominated and will be applying for the teacher award this year?

The application process is worth the effort. Not only in the reflection on your teaching experience but also just the honor of knowing someone sees what you pour your heart and soul into every day. Winning this award is a career-altering experience and you should not miss the opportunity! 


Do you know a teacher like Ann? 

Nominate him or her today for the 2020 I.O.W.A STEM Teacher Award presented by Kemin Industries.This award recognizes one teacher from each of the STEM regions across Iowa for their dedication to STEM. Their efforts are helping increase interest and achievement in science, technology, engineering and math across the state and preparing our students for the future workforce.

  Read more about What the I.O.W.A. STEM Teacher Award Brings to a Classroom

STEM Teacher Externship Classroom Application

By: Nate Lahr

As a STEM Teacher Extern at Collins Aerospace in Manchester, my main project involves analyzing how a department operates and to look for a better flow of the work to increase productivity. I work primarily with two teams. Each of these teams have three stations and each station can handle most of the work that comes to the team, but there is certain work that can only be done on one of the stations and other work that can only be done on another of the stations. My goal is to put together a plan that allows for the work to flow more efficiently through this department with the equipment and operators that are available.

As a math teacher, the content I teach may be important for some students, but for the majority of my students it is more valuable to try and create a self-assessing learner through the content. The common question of “where am I going to use this?” pops in my mind a lot. With some, math content it is not suitable to be taught at a transfer level in the class. I have come to the realization that this is okay, not everything should be taught at the high of level. So in those instances, I have tried to reinforce the idea of becoming a stronger learner; using grit, problem solving skills, being reflective and using a multitude of other skills that could be used in any context.

I have seen and discussed with some production managers the value of finding those employees who are willing and wanting to learn. I have already gathered a few more success stories of employees like this who were on the floor last year and have now moved up to a new role such as engineer, quality inspector or engineering tech. These are valuable to me to try and reach students who are not interested in pursuing a four year degree, and help them see how far becoming a strong learner could help them open some new doors in the future. I can't wait to build on some of the things I implemented in my classes last year as I gain more insight through this placement this summer.

  Read more about STEM Teacher Externship Classroom Application

What It Means To Be A Woman In Tech

By: Kawther Rouabhi

It seems like I’ve gone through the routine a million times before: shaking an adult’s hand, exchanging names and almost immediately thereafter, what my major is, also known as the single personality trait of a twenty-first century college student. “Computer Science and Engineering… Oh, wow. I could never do that. I admire that,” they’d likely say. If they’re not an engineer, they’re probably thinking one of two things: hardand boring.

Women in the United States earn 57 percent of all undergraduate degrees, but only 18 percent of computer and information sciences degrees. When people hear statistics like these, they often question why girls are not interested in computer science. The way I see it, we should be questioning what we’re telling girls about what it takes to be successful in a STEM career. Once the next generation of young women knows what it means to be a woman in tech, we will see fewer unbalanced statistics. Here are what I believe to be the three most important to a career in tech:

1. Challenge yourself: It’s better than others challenging you.

It’s as inevitable as death and taxes. People are going to challenge you throughout your life and career whether you like it or not, and you’re definitely not going to like it if you haven’t challenged yourself. A woman in tech knows that going the extra mile always pays off. It is not selfish of her to want success. She does the work to receive the reward she deserves. She keeps in mind whyshe’s doing it and gives herself a specific reason to succeed. A woman in tech fails because that is what happens when you challenge yourself. She recognizes that learning as much as she can wouldn’t be possible without failing a few times along the way. She works hard, and she might fail. So, she works harder. Eventually, she will succeed.

2. Engineering is collaborative: Build your team.

If we are to inspire the next generation of female software engineers, we need to debunk the myth of competitiveness in the tech industry. Nobody pursuing a STEM career, no matter who they are or where they come from, should ever feel like they are the only one looking out for themselves. Being a woman in tech means building a strong network of supporters. Her team is diverse, with men and women of all colors and backgrounds and all interests. She and her teammates make mistakes together and learn from each other through collaboration. A woman in tech celebrates the successes of her teammates because it doesn’t make her less successful. She is grateful to her team for their respect and support, and she expresses her gratitude. 

3. Find a problem. Solve a problem.

No matter what a little girl wants to be when she grows up, we should encourage her to be a problem solver. Learning how to efficiently solve problems might be the most useful skill a person can have. A woman in tech solves problems big and small. The twenty-first century is far from perfect. Every aspect of our society is flawed in some way. But the goal of my generation and those to come should be to make our world more perfect; as perfect as it can be. A woman in tech serves. She thinks not only of what a career in tech can do for her, but what skills she can use to make an impact on her community, country and world. Once she finds what her passion is, a woman in tech thinks about what she can do to make it better for others. Just like a journalist’s big story consumes them and they hunt down every last detail to tell it right, a woman in tech finds her story, her muse. She thinks, “if I was given a mission to help a group of people, I would help people affected by…” A woman in tech lives to make change. When she solves the problem, she pulls all the stops to make her creation not only achieve but perform betterthan anything before.

Now is the time that we change the course of history and innovation, and to do so means prioritizing representation and inclusion of all people in the workplace. When I look at my generation, I see people that care about every issue imaginable. I see doers, encouraging young people to make their passions one with their career leading to more prosperous futures. I am proud to work with the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council to show students across Iowa what they are capable of when they are problem solvers.

To learn more about how the Council is advancing STEM across Iowa, visit

*Statistics provided by National Center for Women & Information Technology Read more about What It Means To Be A Woman In Tech

Paving the Way for STEM Education

By: Dr. Jeff Weld, Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council Executive Director

I had the privilege to serve on the Committee on STEM Education of the National Science and Technology Council. It was our responsibility, as a committee, to pave the way for constant improvement in the STEM community for the upcoming year. Our committee reviewed the efficiency of STEM education programs, investments and activities, from which we developed a strategic plan to implement for the future of STEM education. 

The strategic plan we created for STEM education will be executed to help achieve new goals and objectives throughout the STEM community. This plan is built on four approaches designed around specific objectives. These four tactics include Develop and Enrich Strategic Partnership, Engage Students where Disciplines Converge, Build Computational Literacy and Operate with Transparency and Accountability. 

Develop and Enrich Strategic Partnership: the pathway of the plan which concentrates on relationships and connections between educational institutions, employers and their communities. Having these networks enriches each STEM learner’s educational and career paths. Relationships will be reinforced through work-based learning experiences, internships, apprenticeships and research experiences, all based on the goal of engaging interest in STEM fields. 

Engage Students where Disciplines Converge: this pathway of the plan is all about making STEM learning more meaningful for learners by focusing on real-world problems requiring more creativity. Activities such as project-based learning, science fairs, robotics clubs, invention challenges and workshops will all encourage more meaningful learning in STEM fields. These activities will inspire a STEM-literate population to better prepare students for an ever-evolving STEM workplace. 

Build Computational Literacy:  integrating digital devices in STEM learning to adopt strategies that will empower students. This pathway reassures computational thinking as a critical skill used to solve complex problems with data. With technology always changing and adapting, we hope to expand the use of digital platforms for both teaching and learning in STEM. 

Operate with Transparency and Accountability: the last pathway, , emphasizes using evidence-based practices in decision-making for STEM programs, investments and activities. In order to maintain transparency, we will monitor progress made toward achieving the goals of this national plan and communicate our findings to the STEM community. 

This past year was filled with collaboration between STEM professionals from around the country. I am honored to serve as Executive Director for the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council because I believe it’s our bold vision that makes Iowa a STEM leader. We will continue to see the Council’s ongoing efforts and implementation of our new national plan throughout the coming years. I look forward to working closely with the parents, legislators, employers and constituents of our state to carry-out the promises of this plan and continuously build on STEM education in our state.

To view a webinar with additional information about the Federal STEM plan, click HERE.

  Read more about Paving the Way for STEM Education

Computer Science in Iowa

By: Erika Cook, Bureau Chief of Leading, Teaching, Learning Services for the Iowa Department of Education, and Wren Hoffman, Computer Science Program Consultant for the Iowa Department of Education

Computer science education is a hot topic around the country. According to, “computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages in the United States” with over 500,000 current openings. Therefore, states are working to avoid being left behind. Iowa doesn’t have to worry. Computer science education in Iowa took a huge step forward in April 2017 when Governor Branstad signed Senate File 274. This bill provides for standards, teaching endorsements, and the establishment of a computer science professional development incentive fund. All of this information is available on the Department of Education’s Computer Science web page. Since then recommendations were released, standards were adopted and 49 schools received funding from a $1 million professional development incentive fund. And we’re not done!

So what does computer science education look like? There is some confusion here. Some think it is about literacy and using technology tools. Others think it is just about coding. So it’s easy to see that developing a computer science pathway, from pre-kindergarten through senior year is no simple task. To support the efforts in elementary school the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council partnered with the Iowa Department of Education to create the Computer Science is Elementary initiative. This program gives six high-poverty schools an opportunity to become a showcase of outstanding computer science education. Computer science is foundational and starting in elementary school is key. This is a chance for an elementary school to create a sustainable program, with support from the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and the Iowa Department of Education..

We want every student to have the opportunity to learn computer science. Every. Single. Student. Every student deserves the opportunity to try their hand with STEM and computer science. The earlier we start the more diverse the field becomes. “Students as young as elementary school begin to adopt stereotypical beliefs in STEM. Research has shown the negative impact on students traditionally underrepresented in CS, namely women and people of color” (Computer Science Teachers Association).

As Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has stated, computer science is a new basic skill in the technology-driven, 21st century economy. It is a method of thinking; it is methodical problem solving. It is about creating and is limited only by our imagination. Computer science has become a literacy that every student needs to be successful in their future. Building a strong foundation in computer science helps prepare students for personal and professional success, and strengthen Iowa’s workforce talent pipeline. Read more about Computer Science in Iowa

STEM in Your World

By: Carrie Rankin, Managing Director for the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council

Physics plays an important role in sports. The angle of the foot and the force behind the kick are key components to making difficult shots. #STEMinYourWorld


Since creation, the mission of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council has been to raise interest in and awareness of STEM education in Iowa. This message has evolved and circulated throughout the state in the last seven years with the help of STEM advocates talking and working with each other to integrate STEM learning in business, industry, legislature, schools, libraries, and other locations throughout the state. This diverse and vast group of STEM supporters represent some of the most important components of STEM: inclusivity, creativity and collaboration.

Often times, STEM is regarded as the acronym for “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” however STEM can and should also be viewed as an overall interdisciplinary approach to learning. STEM education encourages skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking and communication to be interwoven into STEM principles, working seamlessly to provide a complete academic foundation that inspires minds and strengthens Iowa’s economic and workforce development.

With all this in mind, the Iowa STEM team organized a social media campaign (#STEMinYourWorld) to showcase anyone and everyone who recognizes the various applications and activities where STEM is present, including science experiments, exploring in nature, solving math problems, but also less traditional examples such as cooking, building things and even playing computer games.

The “STEM in Your World” social media campaign garnered more than 125 different submissions and thousands of impressions showing real-world photos and videos of Iowans practicing and admiring STEM. These submissions were displayed at STEM Day at the Iowa State Fair on Sunday, August 19 in a live exhibit where individuals passing by could be inspired by their own peers.

Thank you to our STEM supporters across the state who continue to demonstrate STEM in their lives every day.

Engage with us online using #STEMinYourWorld to share examples of STEM in your everyday life! Read more about STEM in Your World

Final Reflections: Iowa STEM Teacher Externship

By: Paul Mugan, Waverly-Shell Rock High School Teacher

What was the most impactful or favorite aspect of your externship?  By far my favorite part was being able to establish relationships with four quality people who are passionate about what they're doing. When one puts those two facets of work together it makes the situation a lot of fun. Certainly while we worked very hard at times, knowing that we had each other's backs made for a wonderful bonding experience.

This externship exposed me to the day-to-day activities of natural resource management work. I was impressed by the level of education required to do the work well. All three of the full-time guys had four-year degrees. The seasonal summer worker was one year away from finishing his four year degree. I could envision some of my students who are passionate about hunting and fishing and being outdoors thoroughly enjoying this kind of work.

While there were some parts of this experience in which the tasks were completely in my wheelhouse; there were others that took me well outside of my comfort zone. We had an opportunity to do a visual survey of dragonflies and as I have done a great deal of insect collecting, I was right at home with this activity. However, there were many instances where I was a completely ignorant participant. For example, mixing chemicals to spray on food plots or driving different equipment were immensely challenging for me. I appreciated that people were patient with me as I tried to learn these new tasks. It reminded me so much of what my students must feel like at times. It is quite possible that each new topic in my classroom brings my students to a new place in their ignorance. It was most impactful for me to recall what that feels like and it will give me pause to be more patient and more empathetic to their productive struggle. Read more about Final Reflections: Iowa STEM Teacher Externship

My STEM Journey

By: Taryn Perry, Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council Youth Advisory Board Member

STEM is all about trying different things, discovering something new, and building off of whatever you are passionate about. This is certainly a journey of change, alterations in direction, but always learning and progressing forward. For me, this has meant, never being too afraid to try something new and different—sometimes it doesn’t work out, other times it is a wonderful new door that has opened.

In middle school, I had an opportunity to take Toying with Technology, which was a robotics course offered by an Iowa State extension. Heavily working with computers and robotics was very new for me, but I decided to go for it. It ended up being a wonderful experience, full of learning and bonding with my classmates. But, it also showed me that my interests lie elsewhere, and robotics is not one of my strong desires to pursue in the future. Despite this, the experience was a great opportunity for me to explore, experiment, and dip my toes into something completely new to me—even though it did not end up being something I desire to continue to pursue.

On the flip side, during high school, I got involved in my school’s academic competitions team. This was a bit outside of my comfort zone and a completely new experience; however, it was well worth it. One of my favorite activities as part of this club was annually competing in Iowa State University’s Science Bowl. I discovered that working with my teammates, studying new science topics throughout the year, and finally putting my knowledge/skills to the test was an incredibly fun and challenging STEM opportunity that I could get excited about. Being a part of the competitions was a perfect way for me to learn about science in a new and motivational way while working and bonding with peers who shared my interests.

Another way I have been able to explore and expand my STEM interests is through the Youth Advisory Board of the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council. In this capacity, I can share my love for STEM in a meaningful way. Our council seeks to help students explore their own STEM interests and passions by helping to make STEM resources accessible to them and encouraging them to explore countless opportunities for STEM in today’s world. Being selected for the council has been a wonderful experience for me in more ways than one. Not only do I enjoy being able to share my STEM passions with students, but I also love networking with those that I have the pleasure of working with. Connecting with them, hearing their stories, and learning about their interests in STEM has vastly expanded my horizons and been an incredible joy.

These are just a few examples illustrating my journey with STEM. It has certainly been a path of trying new things, discovering what I enjoy or do not care for, and constantly working towards my passions. This year, I will be staring college at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, majoring in chemical engineering. Again, this is a whole new path—starting something new. I am not certain what challenges I will face, what facets of the field I will find most enthralling, or even where I want to find myself in the next 10 years. However, the important thing is that I am not fearful to try something new, get involved, and see where this amazing STEM journey takes me next. Read more about My STEM Journey

Pre-Apprenticeship Pioneers: Boone EDGE

By: Jill Janes, Director of Innovative Learning at Boone Community School District and Kris Byam, Principal at Boone Community School District

How many of us have looked back at an experience and marveled at how much was learned along the way? Pre-apprenticeship programs recognize the power of experiential learning for high school students. At Boone High School, pre-apprenticeship fulfills two goals: ensuring all students have the skills necessary for success after high school and strengthening connections in our local community.

With the support of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, we developed an Iowa STEM BEST program in 2017, Boone EDGE (Empowering Desire, Guiding Experience), that includes pre-apprenticeship avenues for student learning. Open to all students who have a desire to discover their true talents and passions, the program aims to give students authentic learning experiences with industry partners. EDGE is built on a foundation of core skills needed for success in any future career:

  1. Employability and professionalism
  2. Communication
  3. Collaboration
  4. Flexibility and adaptability
  5. Self-awareness
  6. Cultural and global awareness

To bring these skills to life through pre-apprenticeship, we partnered with ABC of Iowa and a local sponsor business. We built a curriculum that helped students gain the EDGE core skills above, learn specific skills for all construction trades, and explore apprentice occupations. We began by examining our current high school coursework and working with our partners to determine additional needs to address specific topics.

Initially, we were challenged by time and resources. Our teachers’ schedules were already full, and a traditional classroom wouldn’t provide the rich experiences we envisioned. A hybrid-approach to learning became our solution. We developed online modules providing flexibility for students and teachers. We paired each learning module with a hands-on lab at a local job-site with our sponsor business. These high-interest labs keep students excited about learning and help them envision using their new skills in a future career.

As the program took off in 2017-18, students became ambassadors for pre-apprenticeships. As one student explained, many of his friends were taking college courses during high school; the pre-apprenticeship program was the equivalent method for him to begin his planned path as a registered apprentice in plumbing after graduation. It wasn’t long before our initial group of three students grew to five, and additional sponsor businesses reached out to become involved, too.

At the close of the school year, all five of our students secured interviews for registered apprenticeships after graduation. Four students accepted positions with one full year of a four-year apprenticeship program already completed. We recognized this accomplishment with our community during our senior awards celebrations. This public recognition helped spread our message that pre-apprenticeship is a valuable option for future success.

As we prepare for the 2018-19 school year, we are excited to expand our efforts. We’ve created a four-semester program that will allow students to begin their pre-apprenticeship as juniors and gain an additional year of specialized learning with an internship. We also plan to explore additional pre-apprenticeship programs in information technology, engineering and culinary arts with local partners. We are convinced that pre-apprenticeships give our students an EDGE. Read more about Pre-Apprenticeship Pioneers: Boone EDGE

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