Iowa STEM BEST Partner brings STEM reality to the classroom   

Assumption High School students experience STEM careers almost first-hand, using a virtual reality app made possible through its STEM BEST award.

"It's making learning real."
This is how Wendy Martin, a science teacher at Assumption High School in Davenport, talks about how her school's STEM BEST partnership with VictoryVR, a Quad Cities technology company, is changing the way students learn about STEM careers.
The STEM Council provided a STEM BEST cost-matched award of $25,000 to Assumption High School last October based on its proposal to partner with a local business and develop a tool that would benefit students not only in Iowa but across the nation. The program, "VR STEM Career Exploration," uses phone-based virtual reality software to bring STEM careers from throughout the U.S. directly to students eager to explore future employers.
From a phlebotomist to a veterinarian and an industrial engineer to a science teacher, students have the opportunity to virtually "step into" the worlds of 20 different STEM careers (and growing). Each vignette physically places students in laboratories, green houses, observatories and more as these STEM employees explain the day-to-day duties of their job, their educational pathways and their passion for what they do.
Not to mention, the program meets 24 standards tied to NGSS for grades 5-8 thanks to expert collaboration between educators and the VictoryVR team. Come fall, Assumption High School will begin using the tool in all of its classrooms as well as for career guidance conversations between students and counselors.
Fortunately, the program is available to anyone, anywhere. As long as you have a smartphone and access to Google Cardboard or other affordable, VR headset gear, you can download the free app from the Google Play Store and get started. A version for the iPhone will be available in the Apple Store in June.
And, don't forget, the STEM Council invites proposals for up to 16 more STEM BEST models to be launched across Iowa in October. Learn more about the opportunity by visiting
June 21, 2017
"Fast-Track Iowa's Future" Conference
9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

August 20, 2017
STEM Day at the Iowa State Fair
9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
More Information Coming Soon

September 15, 2017
STEM BEST Proposals Due
More Information

Iowa STEM Operations Center
University of Northern Iowa
214 East Bartlett
Cedar Falls, IA 50614-0298
PHONE 319-273-2959

Record-setting summer on the horizon for Teacher Externships

Match-meetings take place across Iowa this month to prepare for a summer of Iowa STEM Teacher Externships, including this introductory meeting between (left) Carrie Rankin, STEM Council assistant director for development, Design Mill CEO Nathan Greiner and Mike Jensen, a Dubuque technology teacher.
It started off with 10 Teacher Externs in 2009. A small cohort of intrepid Iowa teachers would be the first of hundreds to experience an Iowa STEM Teacher Externship in an Iowa workplace, funded initially by a Careers grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority that was quickly parlayed into a prestigious National Science Foundation grant as a research project.*
Now, eight years later, the concept is fully proven and the model is wholly sustainable thanks to cost-sharing Workplace Hosts -- this year, to the tune of $156,000, including a grant from Iowa DNR's Resource Enhancement and Protection Conservation Education Program. With their help, alongside the STEM Council's matching investment in the program, this ninth season is exceeding benchmarks. A record-high 66 Teacher Externs are fanning out across the state, preparing to apply their knowledge and skills in the world of work this summer to bring back to school new home-grown lessons and career information for students.
The six-week immersions begin in mid-June from one corner of Iowa to another and in a variety of STEM fields. While teachers build new ways to tie state academic standards into the available jobs and skills needed by local workplaces, businesses find the help they need to complete significant projects that bring value to the organization. Take for example:
Design Mill Inc, Dubuque: An engineering/industrial technology teacher will help build augmented and virtual reality programming, as well as work with 3D models.
DuPont Pioneer, Johnston: While two biology teachers work on optimizing tissue culture conditions and reagent delivery for efficient genome editing in canola, a computer science teacher will help develop a Lab Information Management system for that genome editing.
Iowa DNR, Spirit Lake: A mathematics teacher will evaluate statewide aquatic invasive species data, looking for trends and relationships that could be of great value to the biologists.
Their students will be the ultimate beneficiaries. Externships in Iowa businesses and agencies were identified by teachers at over 90 percent frequency to be the best professional development experience they'd ever had, according to the project's independent evaluators. Follow the excellent Teacher Extern adventures all summer on Twitter and Facebook. If you want to see where an Externship is happening near you, use this map and visit for more information about the program.
*National Science Foundation Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) Strategies Project Grant #DRL-1031784, Jeff Weld, PI.

Iowa well-represented at international FIRST® Championship

FIRST® Tech Challenge teams compete at FIRST Championship in St. Louis. Among the 700 teams present, 18 of them hail from Iowa and competed at the international event in late April.
The ultimate goal for some 52,000 teams participating in FIRST ( For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) across the globe from 86 countries is navigating the qualifying pathway to reach the FIRST Championship held in St. Louis last month.

From Cyprus to Slovenia and 31 other nations, as well as most U.S. states, 700 teams with names like " Bagel-Bytes" and " Techno-Ticks" converged on the Gateway City for friendly yet intense cooper tition®. Eighteen Iowa teams (200 students total) made the trek and exhibited gracious professionalism® against the planet's top teams, seven of which received high honors, including:
  • Davenport's FIRST Tech Challenge team, "Combustible Lemons" (Team 5466), received the Inspiration Award, which is the most prestigious award that recognizes the team most exemplifying the essence of the program and is an inspiration to other teams. The team from Davenport West High School is coached by Project Lead The Way instructors Jason Franzenburg and Greg Smith.
  • Davenport's FIRST Robotics team, "Disruptive Innovation" (Team 6317), received the Rookie All-Star Award.
  • Muscatine's FIRST Robotics team, "Fire Island Robotics" (Team 6420), received the Rookie All-Star Award.
  • West Des Moines' FIRST Robotics team, "ICE" (Team 6419), received the Rookie Inspiration Award.
  • Denver's FIRST Lego League Jr. team, "Cybits" (Team 8126), received the Inquiring Minds Award.
  • Bettendorf's FIRST Lego League Jr. team, "Team Crusher BOTS" (Team 7586), received the Outstanding Teamwork Award.
  • Camanche's FIRST Lego League Jr. team, "Bee Builders" (Team 378), received the Amazing Movement Award.
The FIRST organization proclaims that participants are two times as likely to major in a STEM field of study compared to their peers who are not involved in FIRST. The STEM Council has boosted FIRST participation by partnering with the organization through the STEM Scale-Up Program, helping scale FIRST LEGO League across Iowa in 2012-13; FIRST Tech Challenge in 2012-13, 2014-15 and again in 2015-16; and FIRST Robotics Competition in 2016-17 and again for the coming academic year.
STEM Council member and Chairman, President and CEO of Rockwell Collins, Kelly Ortberg, serves as co-chair of the Board for FIRST. John Deere and Rockwell Collins are Strategic Partners of FIRST as well. More information about the FIRST organization is at or see FIRST in Iowa at Details about Iowa' s STEM Scale-Up Program are at

STEM Prominent in Scaling Work-Based Learning

Iowa's core team of leaders at the cross-state meeting of the National Governors Association Policy Academy on Scaling Work-Based Learning in Billings, Montana, in May. L to R, Jennifer Meier and Jill Lippincott of IEDA, Laurie Phelan of iJAG, Beth Townsend of IWD, Montana Lt. Governor Mike Cooney, Linda Fandel of the Governor's Office, Jeff Weld of STEM and Dave Mitchell of IVRS. 
Since late 2015, a core team of Iowans representing a broad spectrum of agencies has been working in concert with peers in five other states to scale work-based learning (WBL) in high-demand fields. Powered by the high-octane fuel of a National Governors Association (NGA) grant, deliverables are beginning to crystallize around practices and policies that will advance WBL in secondary and post-secondary educational settings.

Iowa's Future Ready goal of 70 percent of our workforce gaining education or training beyond high school by 2025 depends on the expansion of WBL experiences such as Registered Apprenticeships, Quality Pre-Apprenticeships, internships and other opportunities for learners to explore, prepare and train for the high-demand careers that await. Final recommendations to come forth from the NGA-WBL team later this summer include a singular and reliable definition of WBL, examples of best practices, assessment strategies, ways to expand WBL to more learners, an awareness campaign and, of course, a major statewide conference coming up on June 21.

Iowa's STEM BEST® school-business partnerships and emergent Quality Pre-Apprenticeship models, as well as Registered Apprenticeships through Iowa Workforce Development and internships through Iowa's Economic Development Authority are examples of leading-edge WBL practices to build upon. Direct any questions regarding what or whom make up Iowa's NGA-WBL effort to project co-leads Pradeep Kotamraju at the Iowa Department of Education ( or Jeff Weld, executive director of the Governor's STEM Advisory Council (