Iowa City Press-Citizen: Inspiring Tomorrow's Scientists Today

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Governor, university officials, students gather for STEM program

By Adam B Sullivan
Iowa City Press-Citizen


There aren’t many things important enough to draw the governor, the lieutenant governor and multiple university presidents to the same place, especially on the Saturday morning of a busy football weekend.

But Saturday, science education brought them all to the University of Iowa campus.

The group joined more than 500 high school students from across the state for a science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM — program at the Iowa Memorial Union. Gov. Terry Branstad used the event to reiterate his call for better science education.

“This is where the real, innovative, good jobs of the future are,” Branstad told the students, many of whom participate in robot-building programs at their schools.

More than a year ago, the governor signed an executive order creating the Governor’s STEM Advisory Board. The group since has established hubs across Iowa where the state is partnering with colleges on science education outreach programs for school districts.

UI President Sally Mason said the hubs build on partnerships the university already has with Kirkwood Community College and businesses such as Rockwell Collins and John Deere.

“Now with formalization of the STEM initiative, Kirkwood and the University of Iowa are one of the hubs. This will solidify the interactions here,” Mason told the Press-Citizen on Saturday.

Mason — who holds zoology and biology degrees — also stressed that the school is interested in reaching out to groups that have traditionally not been well-represented in STEM fields.

“In my generation, it was your patriotic duty to become a scientist and so I did. ... I got a little sidetracked in that, but I love talking to young people about how important this is,” Mason said.

Mason and Iowa State University President Steven Leath said their schools are making progress in turning around gender imbalances in the sciences. Mason pointed out UI’s pharmacy program has more than 60 percent women and at ISU, Leath said an even bigger majority of the veterinary program is made up of female students. They also highlighted programs such as Women in Science and Engineering that cater to females in traditionally male-dominated fields.

“We want to make sure people who have been historically underrepresented know what’s available,” Branstad said. “... Iowa’s economy will grow faster as a result of it.”