Iowa State University Biotechnology Outreach Program Offers STEM Training to State Educators

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As part of its effort to promote STEM research in the state of Iowa, the Biotechnology Outreach Education Center, part of Iowa State’s Office of Biotechnology, hosts workshops to train educators and “boost biotech in the classroom.”

In a recent expose on the work performed at the Biotechnology Outreach Education Center, the Iowa State University News Service noted that teachers from across the Hawkeye State, take a deep dive into research. During the workshops, teachers gain a greater understanding about the structure and function of DNA, work with non-pathogenic E. coli bacteria as they learn about the spread of disease and also learn more about antibiotic resistance. Additionally, the science teachers learn more about the science behind biofuels, a key economic pillar of Iowa. Additionally, the scientists use biotechnology techniques to make cheese and a soy drink, the news service said, as well as learn more about ethical issues in science education.

The BOEC has been operating in the state for more than 30 years. During those three decades, the center has trained “more than 3,200 Iowa educators in science, family and consumer sciences, agriculture and extension.” That training has had a trickle-down effect and impacted more than 320,000 students in Iowa.

Part of the BOEC’s intent is to bolster STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) training across the state of Iowa. Since the BOEC’s inception, Iowa State said the importance of that outreach was well-understood, particularly in the areas of Agri science. Mike Zeller, the education outreach coordinator at the BOEC, pointed to the significance of agriculture and the need to understand the science around it.

“Iowa is a biomass state. We grow stuff,” he told the Iowa State News service. “We’re not only providing opportunities for educators to look at the science that feeds the world, but also to get their students ready for jobs here in Iowa. You have to be able to do the biosciences to get to the next stage of economic development. This is a big one for us – preparing the next generation.”

Iowa State University isn’t the only school that offers a biotechnology outreach service. Schools across the United States have developed similar outreach programs. Since 2001 the University of Hawaii has provided science education to children and adults. Indiana University at Bloomington provides a community education program, as does Johns Hopkins University. Not only does Johns Hopkins assist adult educators, it also has programs aimed at K-12 students to help them gain a firmer grasp on the sciences.  

It’s widely recognized among education officials that an emphasis on STEM has become increasingly important in the global economy. In addition to the Iowa State University outreach platform, there are other programs across the country designed to promote STEM education. California-based EnCorps is a program that was developed to address declining student achievement in STEM curriculum. The program looks to bolster STEM teaching in high needs schools in some of California’s most populous areas, including Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Francisco and in parts of Orange County. Due in part to a teacher shortage in California, EnCorps provides a teaching opportunity to people who are already serving in STEM roles in various industries, including biopharma.

While the Iowa State University program focuses on assisting STEM educators, the University of Chicago has a program designed to pair business students who have a mind to become entrepreneurs with scientists who have an innovation that could be commercialized and have them attempt to form a company.

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