An early champion for out-of-school or informal STEM, Deb Dunkhase helped win STEM Council support for the programs happening in Iowa’s museums, libraries and other popular places for students after the school day ends.
Dunkhase has served on the STEM Council since the beginning, holding a seat to represent those informal organizations as Executive Director of The Iowa Children’s Museum. Since she began with the museum 17 years ago, she has helped draw in an annual attendance rate of 170,000 people—a number that has increased in every one of the last 15 years. That is due in part, Dunkhase says, to what she and her staff have learned from Dunkhase’s involvement on the STEM Council.
“Serving on the STEM Council has given me the opportunity to think of STEM beyond The Iowa Children’s Museum and how our organization can help guide the direction of improving STEM for the entire state of Iowa,” Dunkhase said. “We’re learning more about quality STEM active learning and doing more to improve our own STEM programming because of the work that we’ve been exposed to through the STEM Council.”
In fact, “STEM Family Free Night” at her museum was one of the first programs to receive the STEM Council’s Seal of Approval. Yet, her relationship with the STEM Council has been an even give-and-take opportunity with her supporting regional advisory boards with free meeting space at her facility and donating family pack tickets to the museum for STEM Day at the Iowa State Fair.
Her contributions date back to the start of the Iowa STEM initiative, serving on the Public Awareness committee and chairing the group that turned the idea of STEM Scale-Up programs into today’s reality. After the rollout of the program, Dunkhase and a few other STEM Council members brought forth the idea to support informal STEM happening in out-of-school learning environments and created the STEM Active Learning Community Partners (ALCP) working group.
“We surveyed several groups involved in out-of-school STEM, and the first thing we realized is the greatest need for all of us is professional development,” Dunkhase said. “We’re all working independently, so we’re spending valuable time and resources creating STEM learning experiences and delivering similar STEM programs without having the opportunity to learn from each other and share best practices.”
The group started with a couple of workshops at DuPont Pioneer in Johnston and at the World Food Prize in Des Moines that focused on sharing best practices and working with content experts to help create STEM themes. Now, the group is scaling the workshops into the six STEM regions, aligning resources such as Click2Science and the Dimensions of Success (DoS) Planning Guide from the Pear Institute at Harvard to provide professional development to as many different out-of-school providers across the state as possible.
“We have enough qualified and interested people in this working group, on the STEM Council and in the state of Iowa that by working together, we can improve student’s attitudes toward and interest in STEM in the out-of-school learning environment,” Dunkhase said. “Everything you do on the STEM Council to improve STEM in Iowa has a direct impact on children’s lives. If helping improve the lives of children matters to you, this is a great way to volunteer your time and energy.”
The next round of the STEM ALCP workshops begin in September. For more information, visit http://theicm.org/product/professional-development-workshop/.
Members like Deb Dunkhase make the STEM Council such an effective, trailblazing organization. Thank you, Deb!