Let’s do the math. Five years plus two STEM BEST grants and other community supports have resulted in two facilities with a total of 14,000 square feet of space and equipment for industrial technology education at MMCRU Community School District. This fast-paced growth has not only supplied students with state-of-the-art equipment and authentic experiences in career and technical education (CTE) but also opportunities to develop valuable skills and explore high-demand careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

MMCRU industrial technology educator Matt Hansen has led the initiative to transform the school’s hands-on CTE opportunities, such as machining, manufacturing, welding and construction, among others. His first grant application for the STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers) program was awarded in 2019 and was used towards the development of a 10,000 square foot machine shop, a first of its kind in western Iowa.

Matt Hansen
MMCRU industrial technology educator Matt Hansen

“We are a class 1-A school in rural Iowa, so having this type of opportunity to provide to our students is huge,” Hansen said. “Manufacturing is a big industry in our area that’s supported by families and the community, and many students are interested in these types of careers. I am glad we can provide them with real-world experiences and training right here in high school.”

The STEM BEST program pairs educators with leaders in local business and industry to provide real-world experiences and curriculum for students interested in STEM-related careers, like manufacturing, information technology, bioscience and more.

“Since the program began, STEM BEST has helped 141 schools across Iowa partner with local businesses for first-hand career exploration and learning experiences that focus on students developing future forced skills,” said Tanya Hunt, STEM BEST coordinator at the Iowa Department of Education. “The STEM BEST program truly helps students prepare for postsecondary success in STEM-related fields, whether it’s further education and training or entering the workforce.”

Through the STEM BEST program, schools can receive up to $40,000 in funding assistance to launch or expand K-12 STEM models that focus on work-based learning and high-quality skill development. Schools must provide a 50 percent match to receive STEM BEST funding and have a 17-month window to plan, develop and implement their proposal.


For MMCRU, Hansen pursued a second STEM BEST grant in 2023 that was specific to schools implementing models in high-demand (HD) STEM career areas. Through the STEM BEST HD grant and $900,000 in other community funding supports, a new 4,000 square foot wing dedicated to skilled trades has just been completed and will be ready for students next fall.

“I’m excited to move into this new space for hands-on learning in skilled trades,” Hansen said. “These classes can really help students make connections between math, science, chemistry and so forth and apply them to a practical setting like welding or construction.”

MMCRU students in industrial technology will also have opportunities to connect with industry partners through guest presentations, site visits, job shadows, Registered Apprenticeships and other work-based learning experiences.

“Work-based learning helps to keep us accountable for what we are providing to our students,” Hansen said. “It’s a way for students to apply what they have learned to a real-world setting, ask questions and find their passions. It also allows employers to see what our students can provide as a future employee.”


Additionally, MMRCU is a recipient of the Department’s recent Credentials to Careers grant to provide opportunities for students to earn valuable industry-recognized credentials, such as OSHA 10 safety training and the American Welding Society (AWS) certification, among others. Industry-recognized credentials are certifications, credentials or licenses that are vetted by employers and endorsed by a nationally recognized trade association or organization in a particular industry.

“We want to provide as many opportunities as possible for students through our programs,” Hansen said.

The STEM BEST program has been a vital part of the kickstart to MMCRU’s success with students, and Hansen encourages other schools to take advantage of the program’s assistance.

“Just do it,” he said. “It’s an incredible way to get technology in front of all kinds of students and get them interested in STEM careers in your area.”