Iowa Central has embraced STEMM

Iowa Central has committed to an innovative and exciting approach to STEMM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medical Sciences.

The idea of STEM is not new. My colleagues and I have been attending STEM conferences for the past 15 years. Gov. Kim Reynolds and Dr. Chris Nelson’s educational focus upon STEM initiatives has strong, broad support. It is imperative for Iowa Central to emphasize science, technology, engineering, math and medical sciences, in association with state and federal initiatives, to produce a strong and talented workforce which will help Iowa become of leader in the fields contained within STEMM.

As a lifelong educator and professor of mathematics at Iowa Central, I’ve learned it’s the small acts that get the job done. One of my first exposures to STEM was nearly 20 years ago. My wife and I participated in a Science and Math night at our daughters’ elementary school. We came up with an innovative “project” to help young children learn how to measure, build and make a small item to take home at the end of the night. We thought it would be fun for the kids and their parents to build an open tray bird feeder with a mesh bottom and homemade suet. My wife said, “It’ll be easy — we precut the wood, mesh and string. You show them how to pick out the right sizes and I’ll help them measure ingredients to make the suet called Marvel Meal for Birds.” We didn’t anticipate how popular the event would be and underestimated the number of bird feeders we would need. So, we took orders from the students who didn’t complete the feeding tray, went home, cut more wood and sent the kits, with instructions, to the school so that every child who didn’t get to build the feeder could do so at home with their parents. The best part of Science and Math night was watching the face of a first-grader when they figured out what pieces they needed to construct the feeding tray. The disappointment was watching those children who didn’t get to finish the bird feeder project. My goal has always been to find creative ways of teaching regardless of someone’s knowledge and learning abilities while empowering them to become better learners and students.

Iowa Central has a unique opportunity within each of our current components of STEMM areas to be innovative leaders in our approach to the challenges our workforce in Iowa faces today. There is much demand for highly-trained, qualified people in areas of STEM and beyond. We’re reminded again and again: young children engage in STEM activities and can be enthusiastic learners. They can also thrive in self-teaching once shown how to do something they figure it out. Our commitment at Iowa Central to engage students in the field of STEMM and providing them with the creative and innovative tools of today come with core knowledge, technology and successful outcomes.

Iowa Central’s science department allows students to build a foundation of courses which help prepare them with basic and advanced skills and course work to move towards their chosen path. The science department prepares students to pursue degrees in the health sciences, biotechnology, and transfer to a four-year college. With the recent addition of synthetic cadavers, our students are better prepared to enter the world of health science and college transfer.

Along with innovative divisions within our own college are programs in computer-aided design, computer robotics, and 3D printing. As the need for technology affects all aspects of our day-to-day lives, so does the need for highly-trained and skilled programmers in these specialized areas. Each of these components become more in demand as specialization and the need for technology increases in all areas of our lives. Math and engineering are the support system required for this innovative process to exist. Our math and engineering departments have done a redesign to better serve and support our students in the STEMM areas.

Mathematics should never be a barrier for learning. It’s all about how we approach it. For some of us math comes naturally and for others we struggle. Iowa Central has found an innovative new tool in ALEKS to make math personal by removing barriers. It reviews what you know and builds on that subject, while introducing a student to new subject matters and outcomes they need to know. ALEKS teaches new outcomes and delivers concepts. Once the student has mastered this outcome it moves on, until the course objectives have been met. This innovative and creative 21st-century way of teaching addresses the issue because everyone learns at different paces. Sounds too good to be true, but it’s been working. As we’ve solved the math barrier, it opens the building blocks to prepare our students for advances engineering and IT degrees.

Currently, Iowa and the entire nation are engaged in dramatic health care shortages. Health care relies on technology to do more with less, be innovative and create innovative ways of solving our medical health issues. Iowans have always demanded and received some of the best health care available in the Midwest.

But, we risk losing that edge if we don’t address the demand for specialized healthcare workers. Iowa Central’s Health Science’s goal is to continue providing those highly qualified and skilled healthcare workers. Examples of some of the things are we currently provide our nursing students is the opportunity to experience and recreate real life medical situations and experiences in our highly advanced simulation lab. All the health sciences areas at Iowa Central have become a focal point for the college, so the healthcare needs of the community and state be met.

Just like my first STEM experience so many years ago, Iowa Central has all the ingredients and the right tools to do the job. We have the capability to become innovators and meet the needs of the 21st-century STEM initiative in the state of Iowa initiated by Gov. Reynolds. This time we’ve predrilled the holes and set the foundation. Lesson learned, I’ve traded in my hammer and nails for an electric screwdriver and brought a new tool — Iowa Central’s faculty and staff. Along with myself and my colleagues at Iowa Central we are committed to helping our students excel in the areas of STEMM and serving our community with these new academic endeavors.

About the birdfeeder project, I think I still have blisters from pounding all those nails, and who knows how many staples to hold the mesh. Four on each side, 16 per birdfeeder and about 175 trays. I’ll let you do the math.

Prof. John Hansen is dean of STEMM at Iowa Central Community College.

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