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STEM an education priority in Marshalltown

T-R FILE PHOTO - Woodbury Elementary students learn about the water system during the 2018 Summer STEM Camp. Beads were used to represent water from different sources, including rivers, lakes, clouds and groundwater.

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields have been a major area of focus for local educators, businesses and others who see job opportunities for students in those fields.

That effort continues, as students from elementary to high school have opportunities throughout the year to get engaged in STEM.

“I think it’s important because the world is ever-changing and it’s really important for kids to know that STEM is important in everything they do,” said Iowa State University Marshall County Extension 4-H Youth Coordinator Megan Carlson. “Going into any type of field, you’re going to use those skills.”

She said ISU Extension offers summer STEM programming for local students. Elementary STEM camps have been held during the summer for several years, and Carlson said Lenihan Intermediate School students will get the same opportunity this summer.

Each year, the STEM camps focus on different applications. Two years ago, students learned about space and wind, and built miniature boats and windmills.

Last year, the students learned about water and the water cycle and got to tour Marshalltown Water Works.

“This year, we’re focusing on building a community,” Carlson said. “We’re trying to relate something that’s going on right now in the community with the tornado rebuild, so they’ll be focusing mainly on engineering this year.”

At Marshalltown High School, Project Lead the Way (PLTW) instructor Erica Malloy is preparing students for their next steps in the biomedical field. Project Lead the Way also extends to computer science and engineering classes at the high school.

“It’s just an introduction to what biomedical careers are out there, lab skills that students would need to either prepare themselves for college or the career itself, and a lot of the basic information,” Malloy said of her biomedical classes. “PLTW is a national program … it is pretty much to gear students toward the careers that we know are either in demand right now or are going to be in demand when these students hit the job force, either after their vocational training or college.”

She said her students do a lot of lab work for the classes, meaning they must think critically and explain their reasoning as they work through problems.

Outside of the PLTW programs at the high school, Malloy said the building’s math and science staff do a phenomenal job at teaching students in those STEM-related fields.

Earlier this week, Gov. Kim Reynolds declared the Computer Science is Elementary grant program. Applications for $50,000 in one-time planning grants will be accepted until March 29.

“Tomorrow’s workforce is sitting in the classroom right now. Computer Science is Elementary builds on our efforts to expand STEM education across Iowa, including a $1 million fund to train our computer science teacher workforce,” Reynolds said in a press release. “With a societal digital transformation underway, computer science is a new basic skill students must have.”

Carlson said STEM is especially important in the Marshalltown and Marshall County community. Some of the area’s largest employers, Lennox and Emerson, rely on employees with an education in STEM areas every day. Many other businesses also rely on such skills.

“There are so many different businesses and organizations that work with STEM here in Marshalltown,” Carlson said. “I think the Marshalltown community has a very good advantage because there is such a high business and community focus on STEM education.”