Collaborating to share a love of math and science


Fifty middle and high school teachers are learning firsthand how what they teach in the classroom is being applied in the business world.

After a busy school year, many teachers look forward to a little travel, a little relaxation and a little down time. Fifty middle and high school teachers are taking a different tack this summer and learning firsthand how what they teach in the classroom is being applied in the business world.

For six weeks, these math and science teachers are paired with businesses in their local communities as part of the Real World Externship Program, which is part of the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership (IMSEP). As part of the externship program, talented, educated and technology-savvy teachers work on high-level business projects in a variety of industries across the state from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., 40 hours per week, at no cost to the company.

When their externship is complete, teachers create hands-on activities to take back to their classroom this fall to help students connect what they’re learning in class to the world of work. The teachers also hope to spark students’ interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees or careers.

"After their externship experience, so many teachers have commented that they now have many answers to the age-old question from students of why we have to know, learn or do this," said Jason Lang, UNI biology instructor and Real World Externship supervisor since the program’s beginning in 2009.

"I’ve also seen an incredible sense of accomplishment from our participating teachers at the end of their experience," said Lang. "Many enter the experience unsure of what it is they will be asked to do at the company or whether they have the skills to do the jobs they’re asked to do. I can safely say that all of the teachers quickly realize they have a tremendous skill set and are very capable individuals."

Numerous Iowa companies are benefitting from these skilled professionals who are quickly able to assimilate into the work environment and take on projects with a relatively small amount of training. Some of these companies include Blank Park Zoo in Des Moines, Monsanto in Ankeny and Muscatine, Diamond Vogel Paints in Orange City and Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids.

"At Rockwell Collins, we understand the influence teachers have inspiring their students," said Jenny Becker, who’s part of the company’s community relations staff. "We partner with IMSEP to provide these opportunities for teachers so they can have accurate information about career areas in STEM and develop positive relationships with engineers and scientists in their community."

"Perhaps most important to the bottom line of the businesses is that our program pays the full cost of the externship for the summer," said Lang. "Businesses get a 'free' employee for the five- to six-week term our teachers work. We have been fortunate to receive money from the National Science Foundation and Iowa Department of Economic Development to allow this to happen.

"In the end, teachers and businesses benefit from the experience because it allows them to learn from one another," Lang continued. "This collaboration should really strengthen bridges between the two and hopefully become a lasting partnership."

IMSEP is a state-funded initiative headquartered at UNI in partnership with Iowa State University and the University of Iowa. IMSEP’s goals are to improve the mathematics and science performance of Iowa students; to prepare more high-quality mathematics and science teachers for Iowa’s schools; and to promote statewide collaboration and cooperation.