The Iowa STEM Teacher Externships Program wrapped up its six-week summer experience this month with an interactive forum for Iowa teachers and local business partners. Over 80 educators and nearly 70 workplace hosts were offered the opportunity to participate in the full-day event to network, share best practices and learn how to further connect STEM classrooms to real-world businesses.

STEM Teacher Externship
Externships provide opportunities for school districts to connect with local business partners.

Held at Des Moines Area Community College’s Ankeny campus, the Iowa STEM Teacher Externships Forum featured guest speakers and breakout sessions on successful externship partnerships and provided a chance for continued professional development within science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields (STEM).

“The forum is a great way to end the externships program,” said Lindy Ibeling, who works with STEM communications for the Iowa Department of Education. “Many of the participants of the forum are first-time externs. This event provides them with an outlet to share and compare their experiences and to hear how others will incorporate them back into their classrooms this fall.”

Matt Hansen, industrial technology educator from MMCRU (Marcus, Meriden, Cleghorn, Remsen and Union) Schools, participated in the recent forum and noted that even as a third-year teacher extern, he still had a few a-ha moments.

“It was great to hear from science teachers in biology and chemistry talk about their externships in manufacturing,” he said. “I come from an engineering mindset, so it was really interesting to hear from colleagues outside of that scope talk about manufacturing and the science aspects of it. It gave me a lot to think about as to how I teach this in class.”

Hansen’s recent externship partnered him with Wetherell Manufacturing Company, a specialized custom hydraulic cylinder manufacturer in Cleghorn. Although his classroom has collaborated with Wetherell for career and technical education and work-based learning projects for the past 10 years, Hansen wanted to take their partnership further and learn more about their processes for CNC (Computer Numerical Control) operators.

“Wetherell is a major employer for our school district,” Hansen said. “Through this experience, I can tell students what it is actually like to work there and what it’s like to program a CNC machine. This can give students a head start into learning more details on a field that they may want to pursue.”

Beginning in 2009, the Iowa STEM Teacher Externships Program was started to create working partnerships between schools and local businesses. Teachers interested in the externship program commit to a five- to six-week, full-time position within local businesses to see real-world applications of STEM. This unique opportunity allows teachers to see the latest trends, equipment and processes within Iowa’s business and industry. All teachers earn a stipend of up to $5,000 as well as three graduate credits from the University of Northern Iowa’s Continuing Education. Since the inception of the program, there have been more than 800 externships statewide.

“The externships are really eye-opening about what types of job skills I need to take back to my students,” said Chelsea Thordarson, science teacher for Melcher-Dallas and Twin Cedars Community School Districts. “It’s sometimes hard for students to think about how STEM applies to them. My externship at the Pella Corporation can help show how it applies to real life scenarios.”

Through her externship with the design assurance lab at Pella Corporation, a leading window and door manufacturer, Thordarson is already thinking of new lesson plans for her students.

“I want students to look at an assembly line and find ways for the product to move down the belt without any edges,” she said. “They would have to find the defaults in the assembly line and how to fix it. These are real-life issues that apply to STEM.”

Both Hansen and Thordarson highly valued their experiences this summer and encourage any teacher to get involved in the Iowa STEM Teacher Externships Program next year.

“This experience really helps me elevate my career and what I can offer to students,” Hansen said. “And it helps me stay relevant in the STEM field, which is always changing.”

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