Fortunately, leaders from all levels of education and from business, industry and government have begun to come together to find solutions. Like several states before it, in 2008 Iowa formed the Iowa Math and Science Education Partnership (IMSEP). I am proud to say that I was a part of this founding as a member of the Governor's staff at the time. The partnership has proved to be an exciting and catalytic hub for STEM work in Iowa and in 2011 Governor Branstad backed it up by creating the Iowa STEM Advisory Council.
I believe service-learning, as an educational tool, can and should be a part of the solution. In 2010, several state compacts in the region were awarded a grant from Learn and Serve America to form the Midwest Campus Compact STEM Consortium (MCCSTEM). This group made sub-grants to colleges and universities for STEM projects. In Iowa these sub-grants led to the creation of a community garden at the Lakin Human Services Campus in Council Bluffs. Students and faculty members from a variety of disciplines at Iowa Western Community College were engaged in building and planting the garden, which now serves to provide healthy food education and produce for the agencies on the campus.
This is an example of service-learning in STEM serving a direct need around food sustainability and healthy eating. Service-learning can also serve to engage new and diverse populations in STEM fields and can be an important learning tool for those who struggle in STEM subjects. Women and minorities who would not normally be drawn to STEM careers who participate in service-learning can come to see how these fields align with their passion and abilities. Those who struggle to learn STEM skills in a regular classroom setting can benefit from learning in the field to benefit community needs.
In the Midwest STEM project, 81 percent of students engaged in STEM service-learning courses for this grant reported an interest in STEM fields following the course and 63 percent of these students were women. The students also gained knowledge and interest in the specific issue area of the project (food sustainability) and 74 percent said the service component of the course increased their understanding of the course material at least somewhat.
As we continue to create Iowa's response to this national issue, I hope leaders will consider service-learning as a solution. Engaging students in experiential learning in the community will not only help a more diverse group of students to learn and become passionate about STEM, it can also impact community issues related to environment, health, sustainability, education and a variety of other issue areas.
Interested in learning more?
Faculty and other interested in utilizing service-learning in STEM fields, particularly related to food sustain ability should plan to attend one of two regional workshops planned for this Spring by the Midwest Campus Compact STEM Consortium. The workshops feature leaders in the field talking about models, skills and research related to STEM and community based education and will be held April 11 at DePaul University in Chicago and May 16 at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. These great opportunities are only $50 for Campus Compact members, register today!