Celebrating Black History Month with Iowa Innovators and Inventors

By: Michelle L. Taylor-Frazier, Founder and Executive Director of Multicultural Educational Programs, Inc.

My name is Michelle Taylor-Frazier. I am the founder of Multicultural Educational Programs, Inc. (MEP). We are celebrating 20 years of inspiring, encouraging, and empowering children in science, technology, engineering and math-STEM. I am honored to write about the Black history in my family in Iowa. I am also honored to have March 16, named by Governor Reynolds as Multicultural Educational Programs Day across the state of Iowa.

MEP has partnered with the Drake University STEM Hub to donate our traveling “From Dreams to Reality” kit with 15 posters of African American Inventors and fun hands activities for the classroom. Please check with the them as place to start to learn more about African American inventors, and then students can continue their studies by utilizing the internet to expand their current knowledge base of African American inventors.

Our history is an important part of American history as the inventions have impacted the everyday lives of so many people across America and around the world in the different areas of medicine, transportation, technology and engineering. However, African Americans inventors were not included in history books so many of the inventions remain unknown to the majority of America. In Iowa specifically, it is still a great challenge to bring diversity into the classroom across the state.

Along this 20-year journey, many frustrating and sometimes outright disrespectful things that have happened to me and our team. I remember once explaining the exhibit and having a high school principal turn beet red and just stand up and leave our presentation while my aunt Sandra Bell, a retired Des Moines school principle and the director of education, was midsentence. It was an experience that could have defined our team and marginalized the exhibit to stay in the Des Moines area. 

The exhibit spent most of the time outside the state of Iowa, where the team experienced so much positivity. About two years later, in 2015, we were contacted by a team at Marshalltown Community College, where the contact person that took us to the previous meeting had been. She said this experience had bothered her to. Their team now had a grant and wanted to develop a Multicultural two-day central tour. The MEP team was thrilled! It took 20 people including the workshop presenters to prepare but as my aunt Sande Bell always says, “Teamwork makes the dream work!”

I have experienced an amazing outreach experience with the Marshalltown Community College and the ISU Extension teams from Hardin County. They wanted to design a two-day multicultural tour of two central Iowa cities. The first day, the tour served 250 high school students. The students were open, however quite shocked to meet Dr. Paula Mahone, who delivered the first living Septuplets right here in Des Moines. They also met my older cousin Donald Pipkins, a retired NASA engineer from Houston, TX. He has won many awards for his work and was one of the leads for the space shuttle team that designed the star tracking system. 

The hardest part was that the students were so shocked that African American people invented things or led 60 people on a medical team to deliver seven babies successfully. Our team further enhanced the multicultural experience by inviting two amazing professors who are also Hispanic as quest speakers. Dr. Laura Redon, a professor at the University of Texas, San Antonio and Dr. Richard Salas the Director of Multicultural Affairs at Des Moines University-DMU. Each spoke about their challenges growing up in Texas. Laura shared about her current research and book showing how Hispanic students, despite their challenges, were performing well in college with the correct team of support. Dr. Salas shared about working in the agricultural fields with his family. 

On the final day, word had traveled around about the wonderful experiences the youth had. 800 high school youth were signed up, however more than 1100 showed up! 

Where did I get my explosive and positive inspiration and creativity? Being the daughter of an engineer and inventor who worked for the US Army as an officer lent me an extraordinary life as an African American child in the 1960-1970’s. I grew up around the world. I lived daily in a family where the statement “why not?” was the norm or “nothing beats a failure but a try!” However, the story of my Father LTC. Grady E. Taylor is a fascinating story for another day, when the book that I have written comes out.

As the second part of my two-part blog series, I will share about my uncle who was an inventor right here in Des Moines, Iowa.  Read more about Celebrating Black History Month with Iowa Innovators and Inventors

Iowa Kidventor Helps Make STEM a Hot Topic

Earlier this year, Charles Smith of Ottumwa, Iowa, appeared on Good Morning America with his award-winning invention, the Benge Beacon. The device, created to help firefighters keep track of exit points in burning buildings, brought more than just Charles’ dedication to and passion for inventing to the national stage. It also showcased the importance of a STEM education and the potential future opportunities for Iowa students.

Charles started his inventing process with his parents for the local invention convention. Susan Smith, his mom, shared the process with the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. After being selected as part of the top five inventors in his local convention, Charles applied for the state level. At the Invent Iowa Invention Convention, Charles placed third overall for kids between kindergarten and fifth grade. That sent him to the national competition. There, he placed first in the kindergarten division—and eventually made his way to the Good Morning America stage.

While Charles explored the world of inventing and STEM, Susan was there every step of the way. Her story, as the parent of a kidventor, has lessons for every parent hoping to inspire a love of STEM in their own children. 

Tip One: Start with Your Child’s Interests

Charles created the Benge Beacon to help firefighters stay safe in very unsafe conditions. He’s always been interested in firefighting, so it was a natural fit for him. On encouraging Charles through the process, Susan said, “It was pretty easy, actually, because he was excited about the project. Because he’s loved fire stuff since he was one. It made it his project, not ours.”

Tip Two: Get Creative with Everyday Activities 

STEM is all around us in the world. From baking to budgeting and beyond, there are nearly endless opportunities to study STEM in everyday life. Susan and her family try to incorporate it in different ways. Charles recalled one experiment where they tested the difference in volume between two glasses. He was surprised by the results—the shorter, wider glass actually held more water. It was simple, but it stuck with him.

“It doesn’t have to be a time you set aside and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to do a science experiment.’ You can look at everyday activities you already do and utilize those,” Susan said. “It doesn’t have to be an official STEM experiment to help families learn.”

Tip Three: Turn to Your School for Resources

The STEM skills Charles learned in school helped him create his original invention. Right now, his class is learning about nature and building a terrarium. But there’s so much more to it than that.

“He’s got an amazing school. He does have some enrichment classes they pull him out for, but the entire school is great,” said Susan. “We love it. They’re giving him a great education.”

At his school—and schools across the state—students have access to STEM Scale-Up Programs offered by the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. These programs are designed to help students build their interest in STEM and they range from teaching robotics to concentrating on the basics of a STEM education. 

When you or your child are interested in learning more about the opportunities to engage with STEM, turn to your school to see what is offered. 

With his STEM education, curiosity and passion for inventing, it’s clear that Charles has a bright future. But he has one little tip of his own for helping kids get involved in STEM: “Make it fun!” Read more about Iowa Kidventor Helps Make STEM a Hot Topic

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 www.rocketmanufacturing.weebly.com. Click on the media link to hear specific information and success stories about the program. More information can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rocketmfg/. 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 https://www.iowastem.gov.

*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 code.org, “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

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