There is widespread agreement that if the years ahead are to be a time of growth and prosperity rather than stagnation and hardship, our nation and state must have a work force with the skills successful companies of tomorrow will require. For this to occur, it is crucial that students be afforded by our state's educational system top-notch preparation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
That's why Gov. Terry Branstad launched an initiative to increase student interest and achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics - the STEM fields. On July 26, 2011, Branstad created by executive order the Governor's STEM Advisory Council. This council was charged with generating a statewide game plan to increase the number of students readying themselves to fill technology-oriented jobs. This effort was deemed necessary because Iowa is falling behind many other states in terms of the percentage of students choosing post-secondary school education in the STEM fields.
The first implementation year of the STEM project has now been evaluated through a collaborative effort by specialists at Iowa's three public universities. Their conclusions and summary report were shared with the Governor's STEM Advisory Council at its Aug. 15 meeting. The news is good - this critical project is working.
The report concludes that the 12 exemplary programs launched across the state all had one of the desired results of the effort - student interest in STEM fields increased. Additionally, the evaluators found that students participating in these undertakings had considerably better proficiency scores in STEM fields than did young Iowans in the same age group generally.
Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who co-chairs the Governor's STEM Advisory Council, said in response to the report that the positive evaluation is welcome documentation of the successful launch of this crucial, rapidly evolving project. She also emphasized that much more remains to be done.
"The fine work of the assessment team boosts the morale of the hundreds of professionals across the state who are working hard to implement the council's vision," the lieutenant governor said. "At the same time, we're reminded of the haves and have nots in Iowa when it comes to STEM who we owe our very best effort moving forward."
The state government, in partnership with the private sector, is moving ahead aggressively with plans to build on the accomplishments of the STEM initiative's implementation year. According to a statement released by the governor's office this month, "STEM programming for FY 2014 is already well under way with nine competitively selected exemplary programs being supported in some 3,800 clubs and classrooms reaching almost 100,000 Iowa youth through the Council's Network."
This exciting program is an important part of the governor's reform agenda for the state's educational system. It is encouraging that support in the Legislature for this endeavor has been broad-based and bipartisan.
The Messenger has strongly supported the STEM project since its inception. The positive conclusions of the program evaluators are welcome evidence that through this program our state has made a wise investment in its future economic well-being. Having a work force that is properly prepared to make the Hawkeye State a competitive powerhouse as the 21st century unfolds is vital.