STEM Innovator ® at the Kirkwood Regional Center

In addition to my responsibilities at Bio::Neos, I teach a course at the Kirkwood Regional Center of Johnson County, on the University of Iowa campus. The course is provided by the Jacobson Institute for youth entrepreneurship, an organization that creates and empowers the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. I enjoy the opportunity to pass on my knowledge. The course is called Business Innovation but it is designed to implement the STEM Innovator®, an excellent curriculum that is currently gaining national exposure and traction. STEM careers tend to have above average growth, and our region of the county is no different in that regard. In order to continue to building our local talent pipelines and expand our potential for future workforce sourcing locally, local businesses are getting involved in the educational experience of K-12 students to enhance their learning and encourage them to pursue some of these in-demand careers. The Stem Innovator curriculum focuses on giving high school students innovation skills and an entrepreneurial mindset. They can even earn college credits while they are still in high school through this program! In order to building the qualified educational staff to support this curriculum, the Jacobson Institute also offers professional development to educators who are interested in expanding their STEM education skills and providing this innovative curriculum to their students.

We have run this class in the regional center for over three years, but yet we have struggled to get more involvement from the other instructors and administration in the center. However, this year that is beginning to shift! The Advanced Manufacturing instructor, Mike Kubas, has begun the STEM Innovator® certification process, and our two classrooms are starting to connect for some cross-disciplinary activities this year.

To kick things off, we recently held a Network BINGO event. This is event was modeled after a classroom activity we have used to help students get to know each other and practice their professionalism. This year, with our increased interest in participation, we were able to include several other classes from the Regional Center for this activity. This mixing of students from different academies within the regional center has been something we have had a goal to complete for many years. In a typical year, the students in our academy get to know each other but rarely get to know the students in the other academies. The year will be different, as we are starting to encourage our students to work outside of our class to form partnership and friendships, practicing empathy and understanding of different perspectives, some of many skills valuable in the workforce, but difficult to teach. In addition, we were able to take this opportunity to invite over twenty business partners to participate in this event, giving the students an experience that they could not replicate in their home schools. The business partners thoroughly enjoyed getting to meet the students and were encouraged to continue participating in their educational experience this semester. We have already seen the beginnings of the impact of this approach, as our students this semester are already appearing to be more confident and willing to work as a part of an interdisciplinary team.

We know that contact time between students and teacher is critical, and since we were asking for teachers to give up class time for a full day, this was a big deal to get so many students, teachers, and business partners involved. We have over 100 students participating in the morning event and another forty or fifty in the afternoon session. Kate Moreland from ICR / ICAD played a huge roll in the success of this event by recruiting the local professionals to participate. Thank you Kate!

It will become clear over time how beneficial activities like this are to our students. This year was a great starting point and in the future we'd love to get everyone in the building involved and include even more area businesses and professionals. If you are interested in finding out more about this and other programs that we are involved in contact me on LinkedIn or send us a message. We'd love to here from you.

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