This summer, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council matched teachers from schools across Iowa with local STEM workplaces for the tenth year of the Iowa STEM Teacher Externships program.
Spencer Mesick, life science teacher at Bettendorf High School is spending six weeks expanding his STEM careers and job skills knowledge at Us Army Corps of Engineers. He is building new ways to connect the Teacher Externship experience directly to classroom content and 21st Century Skills identified in the Iowa Core Curriculum. Plus, US Army Corps of Engineers enjoys the help of an educated and skilled local teacher as a participant and contributor on projects for the summer.
Spencer’s summer STEM Externship with the US Army Corp of Engineers was targeted at improving the sustainability of the forests along the upper Mississippi River. The main job of the Corp is to maintain the depth of the Mississippi for barge transportation, which involves having to dredge out the bottom of the Mississippi. This dredge material is then dumped on land owned by the Corp, and the Corp works hard to ensure that the new plant growth occurring on the dredge material is better for wildlife that the plants previously grew in that location. Since the world-renowned Mississippi River is home to millions of migratory birds, fish and other wildlife, Spencer’s job this summer involved identifying the types, health and age of trees on Corp owned land. Understanding the types, health and age of trees helps the Corp know where to dump future dredge material and how to grow a healthy environment on the dredge.
Over 70 teachers across the state were matched with workplaces near their school districts based on that organization’s needs, the teacher’s skills and the subject they teach. By keeping the matches local, these school-business partnerships create lasting partnerships between the teacher, the teacher’s local school and that business/industry, ultimately providing students with STEM career information about business and industry in their community, as well as an answer to the question, “When am I ever going to use this?”
“By matching the teachers’ skills and abilities with the goals of the extern host there is a tremendous return on the investment of time and effort put into the Externship,” said Jason Lang, who manages the STEM Teacher Externships Program. Jason’s wife, Meghan Lang, is the Program coordinator and observes that “the teachers often focus on the content knowledge that may be needed in the workplace setting. Instead they very quickly recognize that the jobs of the future are also about 21st Century Skills. The workforce of tomorrow is all about creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and communication.”
The work that Spencer is doing will not only be an asset to his classroom, but to our whole district as we enhance the knowledge of and opportunities for work-based learning in Bettendorf schools.