With four years and 14 meetings since the first-ever gathering of the STEM Council in September 2011, members returned to the Science Center of Iowa earlier this month to reflect on progress and chart the course ahead.
Preceded by an executive committee meeting awash in sagacity regarding new direction, the STEM Council’s focus was strategic planning. STEM Council Co-chair Dr. Chris Nelson, president and CEO of Kemin Industries, opened the meeting with an expansive view of the group’s work as key to economic development for Iowa, but more importantly, to prepare citizens to deal with the broader critical issues of our times such as climate change and food safety.
The Computer Science and Agriculture Science Working Groups then provided updates, both of which have moved forward on their recommendations proposed last June. Dr. Erin Heiden, senior researcher at the Center for Social and Behavioral Research at the University of Northern Iowa, provided new data on this year’s public awareness survey, including a jump from 41 percent to 51 percent of Iowans who recognize the STEM acronym.
The remainder of the day centered on table group discussions, analyzing threats and opportunities facing Iowa STEM. Emergent concerns from discussion groups included the consistency of legislative support, the omnipresent possibility of mission drift, policy barriers to business-education partnerships and sustainability of current programs. A few of the opportunities offered included developing more statewide partnerships across stakeholder sectors, keeping the state legislature informed on both research and program successes and offering a variety of opportunities for business and education of all sizes to collaborate through the STEM Council.
Iowa Workforce Development Director Beth Townsend stood in for Lt. Gov. Reynolds to recap the day’s findings, observing the strong public mandate for STEM revealed by the statewide survey. Dr. Nelson closed the meeting by asking STEM Council members to set a goal for themselves: “Mark your calendars for 30 days from now. Once that day arrives, ask yourself ‘What did I do for Iowa STEM in the last 30 days?’ and ‘What will I do in the next 30 days?’”
A detailed account of the opportunities, threats and action items identified on the day, as well as a complete archive of presentations and handouts from the December 16 meeting are to be posted at www.IowaSTEM.gov/Archive.