STEM Essential Podcast Season 4

In 2020, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council launched STEM Essential. The podcast features leading advocates and other voices in the conversation around STEM education. Episodes have examined a number of STEM-related topics, with students, legislators, business partners and STEM professionals appearing as guests. 

Now, the STEM Council is releasing weekly episodes of the fourth season of STEM Essential, celebrating ten years of STEM progress in Iowa. Before or even after you dive into the new season, take a listen to some episodes of seasons past. 

Season One: Current Conditions and Future Outlook 

Episode One: Dr. Aris Winger 

The first episode of STEM Essential is still one of the most downloaded episodes of the series. Featuring Dr. Aris Winger, the episode focused on equity in STEM education and how educators can help all students find their place in STEM. 

Dr. Winger is an assistant professor of mathematics at Georgia Gwinnett College and the co-founder and CEO of Mathematics Enrichment for Diversity and Learning (MEDAL). His work suggests that every child should feel welcome and valuable in STEM, even if they are not the highest performing student in the class. 

In this episode, Dr. Winger discusses his view on how STEM educators have the power to create positive experiences for students to keep them engaged in the subjects, even if they don’t come easy.

Highlighted quote: “Being able to do that (acknowledge some students have been left out and address biases), allowed me to stop looking at my math classroom as a math classroom. I started look at those people as individuals, and that started to have me teach people and not mathematics. We should be teaching people, not mathematics. Teaching people, not biology. Teaching people, not chemistry.” 

Season Two: STEM Jobs of the Future

Episode Five: Gabe Glynn

The second season of the podcast focused on how STEM is shaping the jobs of the future and what Iowa can do to help prepare students to take on those roles. Gabe Glynn is the co-founder and CEO of MākuSafe, a wearable safety technology company in Central Iowa. He is also a member of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. 

His organization utilizes STEM to help create safer working environments for not only Iowa workers, but workers across the United States. Glynn’s passion for worker safety was, in part, inspired by an incident in his great grandfather’s life. By taking time away from work, Glynn’s ancestor narrowly avoided a deadly workplace accident. Now, MākuSafe is helping prevent other workplace hazards by collecting data through wearable technology. 

In this episode, Glynn discusses the importance of creativity in STEM and how human work will continue to guide and change automation. 

Highlighted quote: “There’s going to be less swinging of the hammer…we’re developing technology that can overcome some of those physical things. But we need people to design, engineer, program, run this kind of stuff, process the data and understand it.” 

Season Three: Vaccination, by STEM! 

Episode Two: Dr. Patricia Winokur 

During the third season of STEM Essential, host and Council executive director, Jeff Weld, and guests dissect the science behind vaccine development and how STEM in Iowa helped fight a worldwide pandemic. Episode two featured Dr. Patricia Winokur, a born and raised Iowan who helped run trials for vaccines that have been used to fight COVID-19 across the world.

Dr. Winokur is the director of The Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, as well as the executive dean of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and a professor of internal medicine specializing in infectious diseases. She leads the vaccine research program at the Evaluation Unit, which is one of only nine programs in the nation funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Evaluation Unit became one of the sites for a clinical trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. As the principal investigator, Dr. Winokur helped test the efficacy and safety of the vaccine. Those efforts resulted in thousands of Iowans—and many others across the globe—being able to receive the vaccine and receive protection from COVID-19.

In this episode, Dr. Winokur explains what an mRNA vaccine is, how it was created and tested, and the years of science behind the accomplishment. 

Highlighted quote: “We are thrilled that the speed happened and we got a vaccine as quickly as we did, but there have been decades of work going on…where there is a lot of science that has gone into that culminating event. We have for 50 years been understanding things like RNA...but over the past 20 years we have really been honing our understanding of different types of molecular vaccines. So, this is not a fast vaccine in that regard. We’ve been working toward this…” 

The newest season of STEM Essential is streaming now. Tune in on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or on the STEM Council’s website. Read more about STEM Essential Podcast Season 4

Inspirational Stories: STEM Skills for Life

STEM is more than science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It’s knowledge for life, using creativity, collaboration and communication to prepare Iowa students for careers of the future.

In Van Meter, Iowa, Tracy Ferguson has seen this in her classroom firsthand. Ferguson teaches second grade at Van Meter Elementary school, where she strives to create hands-on STEM experiences for students. After receiving a Pint-Sized Science award from the Scale-Up Program, Ferguson was on the lookout for unique projects that would help her students learn new skills with real-world applications. She found her inspiration in a dryer box at a Home Depot.

Using the Makedo Cardboard Construction kit included in her Scale-Up Program, Ferguson created a curriculum for students to build a house together. The project-based learning experience allowed students to explore STEM careers while building skills they’ll use their entire lives.

“I feel like I am the luckiest teacher in the world to have been awarded the Scale-Up Program for the past four years. These supplies, tools, and lessons have become a part of our daily routines in each of the content areas,” said Ferguson.

To start the project, the students learned about the professions involved in home construction including architects, construction workers, designers, electricians and realtors. Students applied for positions and were interviewed before beginning the project. Their work included: 

  • Architects: Researching, planning and designing.
  • General Construction: Following designs, cutting and hinging.
  • Roofers: Cutting, hinging, adding skylights and attaching shingles.
  • Painters: Researching paint combinations, selecting colors and painting.
  • Interior Designers: Sewing curtains, designing and constructing indoor appliances.
  • Electricians: Attaching interior and exterior lights, and dual doorbells.
  • Exterior Designers: Beautification of the exterior of the house.
  • Real Estate Agents: Putting the house up for sale and making a commercial.

Professionals from the industry, including architects and construction workers, volunteered to help Ferguson’s class create their home. Parents, some of whom also work in the construction industry, were able to volunteer on the project.

During the project, the students used tools like sewing machines and electrical circuits to bring their plans to life. In addition to hands-on skills, students also improved their ability to collaborate, communicate and compromise—STEM skills that will help their lifelong learning.

“The best part of my day is when I witness students listening, collaborating, and communicating together in such a respectful manner in order to create that week's product,” said Ferguson. “This may seem trivial to anyone else, but collaboration does not come easy for a seven-year-old. STEM creates and builds this culture of collaboration in classrooms!” 

After completing the project, Ferguson’s students brought it to the largest trade show convention in Iowa, Build My Future. Students learned directly from professionals in the skilled trade—highlighting an important, in-demand section of STEM careers. 

For ten years, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council has provided tools, programs and resources to connect students to outstanding STEM experiences. As a result, nearly one million young Iowans have had access to greater opportunities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. And countless students, educators, parents and business partners have become a part of Iowa’s STEM story.

Have your own story to share? The Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council wants to hear from Iowans who have been positively impacted by Council programs or events over the last decade. Read more about Inspirational Stories: STEM Skills for Life

Tomorrow STEMs from Iowa

As the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council celebrates 10 years of developing world-class programming, fostering partnerships and pioneering the integration of STEM into learning opportunities in the state of Iowa and beyond, we are more focused than ever on the future-vision of STEM.

In 2013, we established the identity ‘Greatness STEMs from Iowa’ which has proven to be true. Nearly every school district in Iowa has participated in at least one Iowa STEM Council Program equating to thousands of educators and more than 100,000 Iowa students taking part each year. Students exposed to STEM programming perform better on standardized math and science tests as reported in our annual evaluation research and express more interest in STEM jobs here in Iowa after graduation. These successes have encouraged dozens of states to replicate Iowa’s model and implement similar initiatives.

We are now transitioning our brand identity to ‘Tomorrow STEMS from Iowa,’ resembling the bright future of STEM education for individuals and communities across Iowa. Our own future as a STEM Council focuses on enhancing the development, delivery and impact of STEM education resources so all Iowans have the opportunity to make tomorrow brighter. While we will continue to expand on the work in progress, our focus remains on several priorities.

Business and education partnerships: There are currently more than 11,000 open STEM jobs in Iowa. Fostering the connection between community businesses and schools is essential to expose educators and students to work-based learning—ultimately filling the workforce pipeline. A total of 65 STEM BEST models have been established in Iowa since 2014 with 77% of all models serving rural Iowa school districts. Increasing participation in work-based learning through programs like STEM BEST is key to future of STEM.

STEM for all: Accessible programming and STEM opportunities for all students has been a cornerstone of Iowa STEM’s mission the past 10 years and will continue to be a top priority looking ahead. The number of minority students enrolled in STEM-subject areas has increased between 3 and 6 percentage points across science, technology, engineering and mathematics within the last year alone. In 2020, STEM academic credentials from Iowa’s community colleges increased 31% among minority graduates compared to 2013.

Scaling up programming in classrooms: Interest in STEM careers begins early on in the classroom when young students explore with robots, build structures to understand engineering and even utilize mathematics concepts to code and design video games. The Iowa STEM Scale-Up Program provides these high-quality programs to PreK-12 students in and out of the classroom, establishing an initial passion for STEM disciplines among youth, increasing statewide test scores and encouraging curiosity to discover future STEM careers.

We will continue building on these successes and providing opportunities that inspire Iowa’s young people to become innovative, enterprising contributors to our future workforce and the quality of life in our communities. Tomorrow STEMs from Iowa. Read more about Tomorrow STEMs from Iowa

STEM in Every Step of Agriculture

By: Emily Fuerst, R&D Director, Crop Technologies, Kemin Industries

From crop development to livestock care, STEM exists in every part of agriculture. As a leader in agricultural production, Iowa uses science, technology, engineering and math to help feed the world and create essential products.

In Iowa, there are family farms, farm equipment manufacturers and agriscience companies dedicated to research and development. That means Iowans touch every part of the agricultural process, from crop research to final harvest.

Emily Fuerst, Research and Development (R&D) Director, Kemin Crop Technologies, at Kemin Industries, is one of many Iowans working in agriculture. Her team is researching how to make agriculture more efficient and effective, with an eye on feeding the growing global population. Learn more about her and her work below.

Tell us a little bit about your education and career path so far.

As a kid, I always loved science and being outdoors, so it made sense that I pursued a career in science. I obtained a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Nevada, Reno. Interestingly, the biochemistry department there had a lot of insect biochemists, which really prepared me for getting my master’s degree in entomology from Iowa State University.

I was originally hired by Kemin as part of the biochemistry and molecular biology group within the Kemin Industries Discovery Research team. I worked on many diverse projects focused on the development of small molecules of interest to Kemin, including beta-cryptoxanthin, recombinant forms of protease inhibitor II, and enzymes for feed and production.

Over the years, I grew in leadership at Kemin and served for two years as the interim R&D Director for Kemin Animal Health and Nutrition–South America, based in Brazil. I then started to develop products for the greenhouse and agricultural crop markets in the U.S. While obtaining my Executive MBA from the University of Iowa, I helped initiate the Crop Technologies group—now known as Kemin Crop Technologies—as its own business unit among the multiple industries Kemin serves. My team is responsible for launching biopesticides and nutritional products for specialty crops.

What does your day look like in your current position? What about for your team as a whole?

On an average day, I spend a lot of time in meetings, discussing projects and trials, and providing support to our sales, regulatory, quality, and technical teams. Our research team is still relatively small, so I’m lucky to still have an opportunity to get into the lab and field from time to time to help in the new product development process.

What made you interested in pursuing a career related to agriculture?

My background in biochemistry and entomology easily lends itself to involvement in agriculture. So many people are impacted by agriculture every day—from wearing clothes with cotton to eating fruit.

I love the vision of Kemin to sustainably transform the quality of life every day for 80% of the world with our products and services. As an ingredient manufacturer, we achieve this through the multiple industries we serve.

As someone in agriculture working to develop solutions for growers and food production, I’m able to make this immediate connection, which is very rewarding. I am so excited when we visit a customer who is happy with our products and get to see how Kemin Crop Technologies helps them in their production and business.

What excites you about the field you work in?

The way we grow and produce food is continually changing, whether for market demand, safety, regulatory, financial or environmental reasons. We always need to improve the way we do things, and I like being part of the development of new botanical and biologically based solutions that are safe, effective and sustainable.

As a researcher, it is easy to see the connection between your job and STEM. But some other connections between agriculture and STEM can be less obvious. Where else do you see STEM in agriculture?

STEM is all around—equipment and data analysis farmers use, such as computers for running equipment; weather monitor stations; drone inspections; and even more.

Every farmer understands the needs for crop nutrition, soil management, protection from pests and growth cycles, but ensuring that harvest makes it safely to the table is also key to agriculture. This involves proper post-harvest washing, handling, packaging, storage and coordinated delivery logistics to get the freshest products to consumers.

Why do you think it’s important to highlight the different ways agriculture uses STEM concepts?

A lot of people don’t stop to consider all the ways STEM impacts their lives. Agriculture is so important, and it’s not as simple as people may perceive. Raising a crop, rearing animals and feeding the growing masses of our society takes hard work, innovation and passion. Through the advances of STEM and resulting breakthroughs, we have been able to successfully produce agricultural surplus in the U.S. for export. I hope that people can appreciate the job opportunities and realize agriculture offers many STEM-related careers beyond the traditionally associated roles.  

What do you think the future of agriculture will be like, especially with STEM in mind?

Agriculture will continue to yield technological advances, improved chemistries, more refined improvements and, I foresee, more automation with increased data collection and analysis. This will allow growers to make more specific applications and changes in the growing process, such as diversified fertilizer applications on a field. I also expect technological advances that will increase sustainability of agriculture with increased environmental and worker safety.

What advice would you have for students interested in agriculture and STEM?

Something worth doing usually requires some work. Don’t be intimidated by a tough class. During difficult subjects, I always reminded myself that there have been others before me that succeeded, so I could do it too. Follow your passion and know that if you work in agriculture, you will have an impact on the environment, the world food supply and more. Read more about STEM in Every Step of Agriculture

Women in STEM: Dr. Patricia Winokur

Celebrated in February each year, Women Physicians Day recognizes Elizabeth Blackwell—the first female physician in the United States—and celebrates the many contributions of women in the field of medicine. Blackwell broke down barriers that allowed countless women—including many Iowans—to add their own contributions to healthcare in the more than 170 years since she earned her medical degree. 

Dr. Patricia Winokur continues the tradition, making her own strides in the medical field. Raised in Iowa City, Dr. Winokur is now the executive dean of the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, a professor of internal medicine specializing in infectious diseases and the director of the University of Iowa Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit.

“I grew up in Iowa City where I was surrounded by all of these really bright faculty members and scientists that are in this town. That was an opportunity for me to really learn what types of jobs they had,” she said. “It was exciting to hear about some of the patient interactions that they had. It was a nice opportunity for me to think about the sciences but also with that human spin and that was very appealing to me.”

On a recent episode of STEM Essential, listeners learned how Dr. Winokur became an Iowan leading the fight against a global pandemic—as well as more about the vaccines made to fight the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

As director of The Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, Dr. Winokur is leading the vaccine research program, one of only nine programs in the nation funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In 2020, it also became one of the sites for a clinical trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The team was specifically sought out for their experience, putting Iowa on the map to fight COVID-19 through newly developed vaccines. Dr. Winokur was the principal investigator of the trial, helping test the efficacy and safety so Iowans, and people around the world, would later be able to receive it.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a mRNA vaccine, a new way of helping bodies fight off disease. Rather than using a weakened version of the virus, this type of vaccine uses messenger RNA to show cells how to make the protein of interest.

“They’ve given the cell the blueprint. And then your cell takes that blueprint and makes the important protein.” Dr. Winkour explained. “Because it’s been made in your cell in a very natural way, it’s expressed on the surface to the immune system in a very natural way that you would see similar to what happens with a coronavirus infection. It’s a very reproducible way of making a very perfect protein that expresses itself and the immune system recognizes it in the right way.”

This way of making vaccines is a technological achievement, rivaling any Iowans may have seen in their lifetimes. And while it seems the vaccine seems to have arrived quickly, there were decades of scientific research that made the event possible.

“For 50 years, we have been understanding things like RNA—understanding DNA going to RNA, going to proteins. But over the past 20 years, we have been really honing our understanding of different types of molecular vaccines. So, this is not a fast vaccine in that regard. We’ve been working toward this,” said Dr. Winokur. “Now we know they’re safe as well.”

In offering advice of STEM students, Dr. Winokur highlighted how the different disciplines under the acronym contribute to the fight against infectious disease.

“The STEM fields, every single one of them has played a role increasing this vaccine. If you’re into math, one of the things that’s so much fun is watching these sophisticated mathematical models to understand who is the best target for vaccines,” Dr. Winokur said. “Engineers helped us create these manufacturing plants. They helped us create masks and shields that are really effective in the hospital setting.”

In her view, there are new challenges that STEM will solve down the road. And she encourages them to choose Iowa as the place for their careers. Read more about Women in STEM: Dr. Patricia Winokur

Expanding Opportunities with Scale-Up

By: Kris Full, Computer Science, Online World Language Coordinator, Technology Integrationist Teacher at Remsen St. Mary's Schools

Computer science courses at Remsen St. Mary’s Schools have expanded again this year. Seniors Damen Brownmiller and Xavier Galles are working on robotics as an independent learning class. Galles took the Computer Science Discoveries class last year and is in the Computer Science Principles AP course this year. Brownmiller took the CSP AP class last year.

“They started the year by learning how to build and program a FIRST LEGO League EV3 robot,” said Mrs. Kris Full. “This is a good entry-level robot because the students also get experience with installing and programming sensors on the robots,” she explained.

They learned how to build and program a VEX IQ robot. They demonstrated this robot for the middle school by attaching a claw and a Go Pro camera to the robot. They “captured” the students’ legs in the claw and then captured their surprised expressions on the camera.

Next, the seniors switched gears and prepared a lesson on paper electronic circuits for the 5th graders. Each student created a card by coloring a Halloween-themed design and adding a battery and LED lights to create a complete circuit. It was hard to tell which was brighter - the flashing lights or their big smiles!

“The VEX IQ and VRC robots are two of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Initiative programs that we received this year,” said Mrs. Full. The computer science courses at St. Mary’s got started with the CSP AP class in 2018, through Code.org and NewBoCo, Iowa’s Code.org regional partner. Then last year, the Computer Science Discoveries course was added. All of these offerings were made possible through the STEM Council Scale-Up Program. “We are very appreciative of the initiative,” said Mrs. Full. “The governor’s STEM program has enabled our students to receive a foundation in computer science from elementary grades up through high school,” she added.

Kindergarten Teacher Mrs. Vicki Heeren and Preschool Teachers Mrs.Tonya Galles and Mrs. Michon Wurth received awards for Hand2Mind STEM in Action modules and Pint Size Science kits through the STEM Council Scale-Up Program.

"The STEM modules and kits are awesome additions to our curriculum,” said Mrs. Heeren. “The students love using the hands on materials. Very early on in the year the students very naturally learn to follow the STEM in Action Engineering process." She explained that for the young students they are given a challenge and then work in groups to do problem solving, designing, testing and re-designing. Cooperation, communication, and teamwork skills are built while completing the tasks.

Preschool Teacher Tonya Galles added, "Through the STEM awards, small schools are able to supply the children with knowledge and materials they might not otherwise receive. The materials Remsen St. Mary’s has been awarded over the last four years through the governor's STEM initiative is very much appreciated. Our students look and feel like the scientists they are with child-sized goggles, lab coats and all types of science tools."  

Heeren concluded, “The students just love STEM time. From computer Blue Bots to Make Do building tools the students get experiences that engage them in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields. The students are the future of Iowa, and Governor Kim Reynolds’ STEM Initiatives are a great advantage for Remsen St. Mary’s.” Read more about Expanding Opportunities with Scale-Up

Iowa STEM in 2020 and Beyond

By: Lindy Ibeling, Communications Manager for the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council

Every year, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council works with educators, businesses, legislators and advocates across the state to raise awareness of and increase interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. While 2020 was different in many ways, our mission was the same. We had to adapt our methods for reaching communities, schools and families in Iowa. By using STEM skills like innovative thinking, problem solving and creativity, we found new ways to promote all the incredible things STEM is doing for our students, our state and our future.

Early this year, before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Iowa, some important events were already taking place. The Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council met in January. More than 100 advocates from across Iowa came together to discuss priorities and learn about ongoing initiatives and projects, like Computer Science is Elementary.

We also announced the six Iowa STEM Teacher Award recipients in early 2020. They were recognized during STEM Day at the Capitol by Governor Reynolds and leaders from Kemin Industries, the award sponsor, for their work to bring outstanding STEM experiences to their students.

In March we had to pivot. The pandemic forced the Council to postpone the annual STEM summit. That didn’t stop our efforts and we found new ways to connect with STEM advocates and enthusiasts.

First, we created the Teachable Moments page. An online destination for families who suddenly found their children at home for an unexpected amount of time, the page offers STEM activities for preschool through high school students. We collected experiments from previous Iowa STEM Teacher Award recipients—and we optimized it to help families find the right lessons and experiments for their children.

Then, we found a way to hear from STEM stakeholders across Iowa. We launched a monthly Twitter chat in April, covering topics from distance learning to high school registered apprenticeships. We welcome you to join us and share your thoughts—we chat during the second week of the month.

In May, we created a new way to share the stories of incredible advocates for STEM education. STEM Essential, a podcast focused on edu-nomic development voices from across the state, now has two full seasons you can listen to anytime.

Throughout the spring and summer months, regional STEM hubs adjusted their typical plans and hosted virtual STEM Festivals for the first time. When we couldn’t come together in person, they made sure to provide fun, educational activities for families to finish at home.

In June, the Council hosted a virtual professional development workshop for educators. The workshop, Fostering Equity in the STEM Classroom, was held over two days and focused on prioritizing equity, diversity and inclusion. Three follow up webinars helped attendees continue the conversation and learn more.

As the summer went on, it was time to plan for a virtual STEM Day at the Fair. Though we usually get to gather for the Fair in August, the STEM Council made the best of the virtual event. We pulled together fun STEM experiments and activities for Fair fans to do at home.

This fall, we celebrated Apprenticeship Week with a webinar and Twitter chat focused on high school registered apprenticeships. The webinar was designed to help make connections and provide access to resources in Iowa.

Now with the year wrapping up, it’s time to look ahead. While we may not know what 2021 will bring, this year has taught us that STEM can help us handle any challenge. We’re looking forward to seeing everything that’s in store. Read more about Iowa STEM in 2020 and Beyond

Ten Ways to Celebrate STEM Day

By: Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council Central Operations Team

Every day, we experience STEM in the world around us in many forms. From our cellphones to the buildings we visit, science, technology, engineering and mathematics can be found almost anywhere. STEM skills help prepare Iowa students for jobs of the future, inspire curiosity and give meaning to the world around us.

National STEM Day is observed annually on November 8. This unofficial holiday celebrates STEM education and shines a light on the importance of helping students advance in STEM fields.

In observation of National STEM Day, we encourage you to help shine a light on the importance of STEM education in Iowa. Here are ten ways to participate:

1. Listen to the STEM Essential Podcast and Share your Favorite Episode

Learn from the leading advocates in our state by tuning into season two of STEM Essential, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council’s podcast. Catch up on the entire catalog or share your favorite episode of the new series.

2. Complete an Activity from the Teachable Moments Page

Want to celebrate in a more hands-on way? Take a look at all of the options from our Teachable Moment page. There are activities for preschool to high school students, both online or unplugged, so you can choose the best activity for your family or classroom.

3. Attend the Iowa STEM BEST Webinar

Mark your calendar for November 10, 2020 at 3:30 p.m. Leaders from Iowa Workforce Development, John Deere, the U.S. Department of Labor and in education will discuss high school registered apprenticeships. These programs help prepare Iowa students with the crucial STEM skills they need to fill great jobs when they join the work force.

4. Join the November Twitter Chat

After you listen to the insights from the Iowa STEM BEST webinar, get ready to share your thoughts. The Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council is hosting a Twitter chat on November 12, 2020. Also focused on high school registered apprenticeships and their contributions to STEM education, it will be a great way to engage with other passionate STEM advocates.

5. Engage with Your Regional STEM Advisory Board on Social Media

There are STEM events happening in your community! The easiest way to know about them is to find your regional STEM hub on social media.

Northwest Regional Hub

Southwest Regional Hub

North Central Regional Hub

South Central Regional Hub

Northeast Regional Hub

Southeast Regional Hub

Follow them today so you can celebrate STEM all year round.

6. Watch (and Share) the Tomorrow STEMs From Iowa Video Series

Tomorrow STEMs from Iowa, it’s true. Our businesses, educators, legislators, parents and students all have a critical role to play to keep Iowa on the front lines of innovation and exploration.

Watch the videos in the Tomorrow STEMs playlist and share them with your friends and family on social media.

7.  Sign Up for the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council Newsletter

There are incredible things happening for STEM all around Iowa. Sign up for our monthly newsletter to hear more about them. You’ll also find information on Council programs, available resources, Council news and more.

8. Explore the STEM Council Blog

Each month, the STEM Council covers a different aspect of STEM on the blog. From aerospace to bridging the skills gap, advocates and leading voices across Iowa find a voice on the blog. Take some time to explore—and maybe find a new area of STEM that you never considered before.

9. Use the Hashtag #IASTEMDAY

No matter how you celebrate, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council wants to see—and share—what you’re doing. Share your activities on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with #IASTEMDay.

10. Share this blog with a friend!

Pass it on through social media, email or however you want to get your friends and family excited about the future of STEM in Iowa. Read more about Ten Ways to Celebrate STEM Day

STEM in the Skies

Featuring Megan Runyan, Student Trainee (Engineering) at United States Air Force and Student Adviser of the Iowa State University American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Every Fall, STEM professionals and enthusiasts celebrate National Aerospace Week. This celebration recognizes the innovation that led to human flight, both here on Earth and into outer space. In 1903, the Wright brothers launched their first successful flight. In the 117 years that have followed, fascinated scientists, evolving technology, hardworking engineers and curious mathematicians have taken us to new heights. Flights became safer, faster and more widely available. And eventually, the science behind flight brought us to space. 

Flight has become a regular part of our lives, so much so that many of us don’t consider the STEM skills it takes to help thousands of flights that happen across the world every day. Megan Runyan, a student studying aerospace at Iowa State University, knows exactly what it takes. Below, she tells us more about her studies—and even how to experience aerospace principles at home.

Tell us about yourself.

I am a senior in aerospace engineering with a minor in political science at Iowa State. I'm from Nebraska. Outside of school, I love to play piano and guitar, paint and explore the outdoors.

During my time at ISU, I've had the chance to explore my passion for aviation. Through classes and clubs, I helped design and build a radio-controlled plane for a competition, spoken with congressmen about STEM policies, toured industries and met professional aerospace engineers.

I've been fortunate enough to have four internships, one at Duncan Aviation, a family-owned jet modification business, one with the U.S. Army Test and Evaluation Command, and two with the 416th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base.

In the future, I plan to continue my career in flight test and evaluation, where I can do meaningful work and be on the cutting edge of aerospace technology.

What sparked your interest in aerospace? 

I think I have always been in love with aerospace. My parents like to tell the story of me as a toddler asking why I couldn't hear a distant airplane while we were driving. They tried to explain how the noise from the car was too loud to hear the airplane over, but as a future scientist, I had a hypothesis.

I knew when my toys went silent, if you replaced the batteries, they'd start making noise again. I was certain that the airplane just needed batteries. I’ve been fascinated with everything air and space ever since, and nothing was more exciting to me than the idea of flying and riding rockets.

What were the most helpful subjects you studied in elementary and high school for what you study now?

In elementary school, definitely science! The space unit was always my favorite. In high school, the math courses were helpful, but so were the vocational classes like drafting, welding and anything manufacturing related. When you're designing a new component or testing a new system, it's so important to keep in mind the process to make your designs a reality.

What are the basic concepts you study in your major?

In aerospace, everything is about forces. To overcome the forces of gravity, you need to reach a certain speed and have more power and thrust than the weight of your airplane or rocket.

This breaks down into lift (the force going upwards), drag (the friction of the air going over your vehicle slowing you down), thrust (the ability to go forward/up), and weight (where gravity comes into play). In testing, there's also seeing how much force your aircraft or spacecraft can take before it breaks. We have to make it safe enough to withstand the worst conditions it could face.

Who inspires you in your chosen field?

My hero is John Glenn. He was the first American to orbit the earth, but he was also a veteran, test pilot and congressman. He combined his love of aerospace with public service. We can all learn from his quote: "We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something bigger than ourselves." I think there's a lot of truth to that.

I've also had many mentors, coworkers, professors and friends who have inspired me. Many of the people I've had the honor of working with and learning from are helping to shape the future of aerospace, and I'm incredibly grateful that they invested in me. Their mentorship has inspired me to try to be a mentor to others.

What would you tell students who are interested in studying aerospace?

Start looking up! Find out what gets you excited and then chase after that. Go to air shows, watch space movies, look to the stars. There's so much you can learn about aerospace—some by reading and studying, and some by experiencing.

When you are inspired by what you do, all the hard work is worth it. This is the field where you can challenge what was previously thought possible. Dream big, because in aerospace the sky, and beyond, is the limit.

While you usually can’t experience flight at home, paper airplanes can give you a little taste of what it takes to make planes fly. Here are some tips from Megan to get your planes off the ground.

The basics of flight are the four forces: lift, drag, thrust and gravity. Gravity pulls the plane down, while lift makes it fly. Drag allows for steering and thrust gives you power.

If you were to draw an airplane from the side with the nose pointing to the left of the paper, you can visualize these forces by drawing an arrow pointing up for lift, to the right for drag, down for gravity and to the left for thrust. These arrows show the forces acting on your paper airplane, like a string tied to it at that point and pulling in the direction of the arrow. The bigger the pull, the more the airplane moves in that direction. 

To fly smoothly, I would first decrease the amount of drag on your paper airplane. This means making the surface as smooth as possible with sharp creases in your folds. The next step is to make both sides of your aircraft even. If one wing is bigger, it will create more lift and more drag, making your flight choppier. Finally, a stiffer piece of paper will also help, as the lift forces could bend the paper a little bit, making your wing shape change. This will give you the same problem as an uneven wing. 

To go further, you should live by the motto of my propulsion professor: “In thrust we trust.” This means giving your plane a little more oomph when you toss it. But that brings us to another important thing to consider in flight: your angle of attack—or the angle at which your airplane flies compared to the ground. If you point the nose up a little, your plane will fly higher, but also create more drag. This makes your flight a lot shorter. For best results, keep the angle of attack low. Throw from a high point and point your nose down a little, or keep the angle even or barely different from the ground, probably no more than three to five degrees.

To have a smooth landing, do much of the same as going further. The further you throw it, the more it slows down, making it land easier. Having a flat bottom and strong, straight nose also helps. It increases the chance that your plane will handle a crash better, and more importantly, land with the nose pointing forward instead of at the ground. 

If you wish your paper airplane was more of a fighter jet, you must get some aerobatics in. There are tons of cool tutorials online, but the basics are to make your plane have unbalanced forces on purpose.

Want to do a loop? Put more weight towards the nose and have big wings so you get a lot of lift. Want it to fly in circles? Make one wing have more drag than the other, maybe by bending part of the wing down. Want it to do barrel rolls? Make one wing bigger than the other so it has more lift.

You’ll have to experiment with your folds and the way you throw it, but once you understand how the forces work, you can build your plane to do whatever you want! Read more about STEM in the Skies

Transdisciplinary Education

Q&A with Emily Abbas and Stephanie Laird

Though we often talk about STEM as a group of individual subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), nothing exists in isolation. There are endless connections between STEM and the way we live and learn every day.

For instance, think about the science of baking. That’s chemistry in practice. What about the technology that we use to get through the day? Your cellphone, computer and car are the product of hundreds of years of STEM innovation. Every bridge you cross is a testament to engineering. And you can find math in a work of art or a balanced household budget.

Transdisciplinary education is an approach to learning that understands those connections. It works to make sure learners get the context they need to understand how STEM—and other subjects—are related.

Transdisciplinary education is stronger with the support of business partners and educators who are invested in the STEM skills our Iowa students are learning. Below, hear from two strong advocates for transdisciplinary education

Emily Abbas

Senior Vice President of Consumer Banking and Marketing Officer at Bankers Trust

STEM Council Member

Tell us a little bit about your involvement with the STEM Council. 

I could be a poster child for how you do not have to be an engineer, scientist, or teacher to have a seat at the table and make a difference in STEM. In 2013, I was serving as executive director of public relations at a marketing company that let me lead branding work for the STEM Council.

The following year, I was appointed to the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and was reappointed in 2017 to serve through 2020. I am honored to be a supporter of this public-private partnership that inspires students, supports teachers and provides businesses future employees who are in high demand. 

What does transdisciplinary education mean to you? 

As a business executive, I have experienced firsthand how dissolving boundaries (or silos) and between teams leads to the best possible strategies and performance outcomes. Imagine if we were introduced to working across disciplines at an even younger age!

To me, transdisciplinary education is fundamental to helping children, and in turn employees, gain the breadth of knowledge, experiences and skills to solve real-world problems. 

How does a transdisciplinary approach to STEM education impact your industry? 

For banking, the obvious answer is workforce preparation through real-world applications of math and technology. I’d like to challenge that limited view. I believe scientists, artists and even those of us in the financial industry must have a guiding vision, see things in new ways and invent or use technologies and tools differently to achieve new things. 

In fact, The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson—one of the top business books on Amazon—echoes many of the principles of transdisciplinary education. Johansson argues that innovation comes from diverse industries and cultures, and happens when disciplines intersect, bringing ideas from one field into another.

What many may not know is that the name of the book was derived from the Medici Dynasty, an Italian banking family that came to power in the 14th century and whose investments led to The Renaissance. In short, while banking may be heavily regulated, it doesn’t prevent those within the industry from being creative or innovative in how they solve problems. In fact, financial investments made in businesses and communities are key to the health and vitality of our economies and quality of life.

What are other ways businesses can support STEM education around the state?

One of the wonderful things about supporting STEM is that it’s a low- or no-cost opportunity to provide great value! How you, your company or employees decide to get involved is really up to you. Here are just a few ways, with a few modifications for COVID-19:

  • Provide teacher externships
  • Mentor students via Zoom
  • Be a speaker at an event or for a classroom
  • Provide a virtual business or industry tour
  • Serve as a judge on a committee or for STEM BEST

And these aren’t even the only ways you can get involved. Click here to learn more about becoming a corporate partner.

Stephanie Laird

Instructional Coach at Mitchellville Elementary School

STEM Council Member

Tell us a little bit about your involvement with the STEM Council.

I was appointed to the STEM Council in December 2019, so I have spent time learning about the work and impact of the Council across our state. As a TLC Instructional Coach and educator at the elementary level, I bring the practitioner’s voice and perspective to the table.

In addition to sitting on the Council, I serve as co-chair of the Equity in STEM working group and am a member of the Teacher Preparation and Professional Development working group. The Equity in STEM working group spent the past four months developing recommended actions for the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council to promote Equity in STEM, particularly in increasing diversity of students in the Council’s current STEM programs.

What does the average day look like in your classroom?

I’m an instructional coach, so my “classroom” is not what one traditionally envisions when thinking of a K-12 school. I work directly with teachers in their classrooms, not one of my own.

I could be in a different grade level on any given day, but the work is always tied to instructional practices and student learning. Depending on the goal area and coaching cycle, I may be observing a lesson, providing feedback, reflecting with teachers, or modeling and co-teaching lessons.   

What does transdisciplinary learning mean to you?

I like to describe “transdisciplinary learning” to teachers as teaching outside the box or silo. Too often, a concept is taught in isolation, meaning it is only taught through the lens of one academic subject. When that same concept is taught and analyzed through multiple subject areas, students are able to develop a holistic and authentic understanding. 

How can other educators incorporate transdisciplinary learning into their classrooms?

It depends. For a general education teacher, covering all subject areas, then incorporating transdisciplinary learning would mean examining the content area standards and identifying how a concept is taught across disciplines.

If a teacher is a discipline-specific teacher—only responsible for one subject—then they will need to collaborate with colleagues who teach the other disciplines. Together, educators will determine how instruction would look across classrooms when teaching the same concept. 

How can businesses support educators who want to focus on work-based learning?

Most importantly, I would say reach out. Businesses know the skills and attributes our students will need when they enter the workforce. Teachers are trained to help students gain the skills they need for the future, but having businesses communicate specific qualities they need in a worker would help teachers better include these needed skills within their instruction.

In addition to communicating with educators, businesses can partner with schools, or specific classrooms. These partnerships can allow businesses to collaborate with educators in planning and implementing work-based learning opportunities for students. Read more about Transdisciplinary Education

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