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Fostering cooperation

Chizek works to advance STEM education in Iowa

November 19, 2012
By JESSE HELLING, , Messenger News

By his own admission, Jerry Chizek is not what he calls a technology native.

That moniker is reserved to the young people for whom omnipresent personal computers, mobile phones and all manner of gadgets have always been a way of life.

As an example, Chizek, Region 7 education director for Iowa State University Extension, said he recently observed his 2-year-old grandson playing a simple electronic game on a cell phone.

Indeed, for anyone born after 1990, "It's second nature," Chizek said.

This can prove advantageous in an increasingly technology-based economy: almost from birth, Americans are trained to use computers as a function of their everyday lives, Chizek said.

On July 26, 2011, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad created by executive order the Governor's STEM Advisory Council. This council's primary goal is to boost student interest and achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

In August, Chizek was appointed one of 15 members of the Northwest Regional STEM Advisory Council.

The state is divided into six geographically-based STEM areas.

Each area received $433,000 for the present fiscal year to award in grants

As a member of the council, Chizek helps identify programs to receive funding.

Recently, the Fort Dodge Community School District received seven program grants, including a First Lego League Grant. Using Lego blocks and a laptop computer, students will construct a robot that can carry out designated tasks, according to Chizek.

"The grant money pays for a kit for the receiving school," he said

By May 2013, recipients of the STEM grants will be expected to have implemented their projects and conduct an evaluation, Chizek said.

This will help maintain accountability, he said.

That is important, given that some people have tentative feelings about using tax dollars for such purposes, he said.

According to Chizek, boosting student interest in the science, technology and mathematics fields will reap great rewards in terms of economic development.

"Think of all the careers that are science-based, tech-based," he said. "We're home-growing our work force, giving kids the skills that are desirable to help create and retain jobs in Iowa"

By sparking that interest at a young age, students are more likely to proceed, he said.

"Relevance is key," he said. "We need to help children and adults see the relevancy of STEM education."

Chizek said he hopes an upswing in interest in STEM subjects will play itself out in other arenas, particularly 4-H.

4-H clubs can be organized on the basis of subject.

"We can bring together groups of children who share a passion for these things," he said.



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