One of the earliest and most significant questions asked of and by the Iowa Governor's STEM Advisory Council back in 2011 was how to deliver inspiration and innovation locally throughout the state. A working group of volunteers assembled around the question, chaired by DMACC President Rob Denson. Their product was a network of six regions administered by Regional STEM Managers housed at competitively awarded and cost-sharing Hub institutions, guided by Governor-appointed Advisory Boards, analogous to a model operating in Massachusetts shared by then-Council member Isa Zimmerman.
Today the system is fully functional, executing the STEM Council's vision at the classroom and community level from Larchwood to Keokuk and Lansing to Hamburg and all points in between. The Boards are extremely active in programming and building connections. They promote opportunities throughout the region such as STEM Scale-Up programs, the I.O.W.A. STEM Teacher Award sponsored by Kemin, Family STEM Festivals, STEM Teacher Externships, STEM BEST ® and more. Iowa's 90 Regional Board members, then, do the essential work of sifting through piles of applications, nominations and proposals to recommend recipients of STEM Scale-Up program awards, I.O.W.A. STEM Teacher Awards and STEM BEST® awards. They staff regional Festivals, volunteer for numerous STEM Council working groups, generously invest their time and talent in meetings and events and perhaps, most importantly, build bridges for STEM to regional workforce development, business and industry, higher education, Extension, libraries, economic development, school boards, nonprofits, Area Education Agencies, local government and, of course, K-12 schools. (These are the assigned seats on each Regional Board.) Two Board members shared their insights recently:
Scott Fortune, owner of Upper Iowa Tool & Die in Cresco, and a charter member of the Northeast Regional Advisory Board, serves because he wants to be a part of the change in the education of Iowa students (future employees). The most rewarding aspect for Scott is when the Board meets students impacted by their programs, "especially those in grade school or middle school" who can explain in great detail how their project works, the failures they ran into and what they did to overcome those problems. Says Scott, "This tells me our work as a Board in supporting the STEM education of students is working."
Alan Ladd, Iowa State University Regional Education Extension Director in Atlantic, is a 5-year member of the Southwest Regional Advisory Board. His commitment to the Board springs from "... the excitement generated by STEM" when "both kids and parents' eyes light up when they see what STEM is and how much fun it is for the youth and for parents to see potential jobs for their children." Alan sees his role as supporting Regional STEM Manager Deb Frazee in making connections throughout the Southwest Region, "...and being a part of something bigger than ourselves."
Last year alone, Regional Managers collectively made 569 new connections across stakeholder groups thanks to this model. Iowa's network of Regional Advisory Boards is the backbone of the state's STEM initiative. Details on Regional Boards may be accessed at https://www.iowastem.gov/regions.