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Drake promotes STEM fields

September 10, 2012

Drake promotes STEM fieldsNew hub advances state initiative in science, technology, engineering, and math

Over the summer, curious middle school students visited Drake’s campus to attend camps in science and technology.

In the Let’s Build an App for That camp, led by Timothy Urness, assistant professor of computer science, students learned to make games for Android smartphones. During the Wide World of Science summer camp, students explored different areas of science through activities led by Drake students and Maria Valdovinos, associate professor of psychology.

The activities during the camps were designed to fuel the passions of middle school students and spark a lifelong interest in potential careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

American students typically show less interest and tend to be less proficient in STEM fields. According to recent statistics released by ACT, 77 percent of Iowa’s high school students who took the college entrance exam tested “college ready” for English, but only 51 percent did so in math and 38 percent in science. Nationally, 67 percent of those who tested were college ready in English, 51 percent in math, and 31 percent in science.

Foundation for success

The camps represent just a few of Drake’s efforts to prepare future generations to meet the needs of society through STEM education. The effort is collaborative across campus.

Drake’s commitment to STEM education encompasses the majors and minors it offers in those fields, but also community outreach, like the Actuarial Science Summer Camp for Women and Minorities; educational programs, such as the Drake University Science Collaborative Institute (DUSCI); and the continued improvement of science facilities. It also includes the involvement of senior leadership in national efforts, such as President David Maxwell’s participation in the Business-Higher Education Forum, where business and education leaders address issues related to American competitiveness in the global economy.

Growing STEM in Iowa

Drake amplified its commitment to STEM education last spring when it applied to be and was named one of six regional STEM network hubs by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.

Each hub will coordinate resources within a defined region, in Drake’s case, the south central portion of Iowa. The hubs are instrumental in the governor’s efforts to increase student achievement, develop a stronger workforce in STEM fields, and stimulate statewide economic development. These efforts are coordinated and led by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, which was launched a little over a year ago by executive order.

According to Kris Kilibarda, who oversees Drake’s hub as south central regional manager, the most important goal for the regional hubs is to create partnerships among businesses, community organizations, and educational institutions that will address issues related to STEM education in each region.

“Our goal is to increase STEM opportunities and therefore improve and promote economic development in the state,” says Kilibarda, AS’91, GR’98, GR’06. “We need to ensure we are developing a workforce that is well-versed in STEM fields but also in 21st century skills like critical thinking.”

The next steps

Her first task as regional manager was the development of a regional advisory board. This year, the board will work to identify STEM deficits in the region and set goals based on those needs. She will also work on the implementation of 12 designated “scale-up” projects, which have been selected by the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. The projects have demonstrated a positive effect on student achievement and have been given funding by the Iowa legislature to help extend their reach. Schools and other educational organizations can apply for access to one of the 12 scale-up projects, which will allow Iowa students to study topics such as robotics, engineering, wind energy, and agriculture.

As the initiative moves forward, Kilibarda sees the selection of Drake as the south central hub as a benefit for the region for two reasons: Drake’s application received broad support from the entire University community, and the University has an established commitment to STEM education and community partnerships. This will allow her to draw on the resources of faculty and staff throughout campus and build on Drake’s current relationships. She expects more contributions and assistance from faculty and staff as projects are developed.

“I see Drake as a point place for innovation and creation and helping to truly grow what is happening out there,” Kilibarda says. “Drake faculty and staff are incredibly responsive and incredibly creative. When they become aware of a need, they are going to be very responsive to that need. This hub is going to help identify what those needs are and how Drake can really step up to address those needs.”

Elizabeth Ford Kozor, AS’07, JO’07

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