CEDAR FALLS | The Iowa Governor’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Advisory Council has awarded 19 new STEM BEST (Businesses Engaging Students and Teachers) Partnerships across Iowa, including the Iowa BIG-North Consortium.

The Iowa BIG North group includes the Osage, Charles City, New Hampton and Rockford School Districts, in the northeast STEM region.

STEM BEST Partners transform typical K-12 classroom environments and methods to unite the workplace with the classroom and develop clear pathways from STEM education to STEM careers in the state.

From 2014 through 2016, the STEM Council established eighteen STEM BEST Partnerships that exemplify school-business partnerships uniting what is taught and learned in K-12 mathematics, science, technology and engineering classes with what skills, knowledge and behaviors are going to be needed at work.

"We are ecstatic to have received the expansion grant, as competitive and tight as the money is, this is a stamp of approval for our program, Iowa Big North for sure,” said Osage Schools Superintendent Barb Schwamman. “We are pleased to provide more students and more schools the opportunity to work together and for more students to get to do the real world projects with our business partners.

“We will be meeting to figure exactly how our expansion works, but kuddos to our IBN team for working together across school district lines to do what is good for businesses and industry.”

“This means the Iowa BIG-North Consortium has an opportunity, now, to expand,” said Dan Cox, Superintendent of the Charles City School District. “With this grant, we are going to expand in Mitchell County to Riceville, over to Turkey Valley, and potentially add up to four additional schools in the next two school years.

“At Osage and Riceville, in addition to the other Iowa BIG-North Schools, we will be putting in a more efficient way for our students and staff to communicate from the remotes sites, an upgraded communication system businesses would be using, a polycom system, with a large flat screen monitor. This will create a level playing field, so everyone has the same equipment in all of our Iowa BIG-North schools.”

Cox said, specifically, in Osage and Riceville, “It means more opportunities for businesses to be engaged with those students in Mitchell County. For students, it means they are more aware of the local businesses they have that offer high quality jobs and good quality of life.”

The STEM Council’s executive committee voted unanimously to award and support 19 of 31 proposed partnerships that each bring to the table a dollar-for-dollar cost sharing commitment and, in some instances, well beyond their fifty percent cost sharing commitment. The Council’s STEM BEST grants themselves derive from a pool of funds that represent both public and private investments in STEM. Funds are to be used for equipping modern collaborative workspaces and training educators in workplace-classroom integration.

The amount award means $20,000 - $25,000 for the Iowa-BIG Consortium.

Each selected program submitted an in-depth proposal, considering factors like education driven by industry need, rigorous, relevant and dynamic STEM curriculum and authentic partnerships. These models bring various strengths in community partnerships, district demographics and program focus and will serve as models for others around the state.

“We have seen success with the program. We going across district lines,” Cox said. “Students can collaborate on projects together and it doesn’t matter what color you wear on Friday night. We are in this as North Iowans together. There is power in the group.

“The more we can promote the good things in Mitchell, Floyd and Chickasaw counties, the higher the likelihood people will see the opportunities that exist here and perhaps we can turn around the decline people are seeing across in parts of the state in the rural areas.”

Cox said the group is excited about bringing on the two expansion programs in the spring in the three to four county area.

“We think this is a really unique program,” he said. “The Governor has this on her radar. She continually talks about the success of the program and we think this could be a good model to replicate in other parts of the state.”

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, Iowa BIG-North students will attend an Excellence in Education conference in Des Moines. In addition, students will meet with the governor at her office to discuss the program.

On Monday, Nov. 20, the Osage Iowa-BIG North students and staff will present at the Rock'n the Future Workforce Employer Educator Summit in Clear Lake with Governor Reynolds.

“We are proud of our students and are excited about the upcoming opportunities they continue to have,” Schwamman said.

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