Initiative aims to fill in Iowa's engineering gap - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Initiative aims to fill in Iowa's engineering gap

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ESTHERVILLE, Iowa (KTIV) -

There's a crop shortage in Iowa that's not caused by drought. It's a shortage of engineers. Iowa's governor says it's due to a lack of concentration on math and science education. He's launching a series of community meetings to discuss how a recent initiative is trying to change this.  KTIV was there at Friday's meeting in Estherville, Iowa.

"You have the motors which right now we're using for the wheels and these are the ultra sonic sensor," Amelia Webber said.

Amelia Webber is a fifth grader who's taking part in a STEM program which teaches kids how to design and program robots.

It's got her thinking about becoming an engineer.

"With these robots, I'm interested in engineering and stuff, probably in designing," Webber said.

Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds says kids like Amelia are the ideal target for a new government initiative, to get young people interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, known as STEM education. She says education in these fields has fallen on the back burner, and that's causing a huge talent gap across Iowa and the country.

"We did some vocational education when I was in school, they had shop and what's happened you've even seen that move out of schools and I think they've realized that, that was a mistake, that kids really do need the hands on, they need the opportunity to problem solve and to do critical thinking," Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds said.

A recent state report shows STEM jobs are projected to be among the fastest growing and best paying. Yet, these jobs require a lot of training and preparedness.

"We need to get them started early because if they come to college without any of the math background then it's going to be difficult to catch up. Because if it takes 2-3 years in mathematics courses before you can even start in engineering courses, it may no longer be a viable career for you," Mark Zabawa a college science professor who was at Friday's meeting said.

Barron Gustafson is another student who began STEM education early. Some of his software engineering homework takes hours to finish but his hard work has opened doors for him. He recently received a school grant to travel and meet people working in the field.

"I was presenting at a conference down in Des Moines and the head of the John Deere design team came up to me and said, the program you use is harder than what I do," Gustafson said.

Another goal of the program is to diversify the workforce, by recruiting, more minorities, women and people in rural communities.

"I think if we can get girls to start it early and let them know it's a neat thing to do, and that they can have a lot of fun participating," Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds

There will be several more meetings held to discuss and get feedback on STEM. For a list of those meetings click here.

 

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