The mission of The Robert D. and Billie Ray Center (The Ray Center) at Drake University is to improve civility and develop ethical leaders throughout the world. Founded in 1997, the work of The Ray Center extends from early childhood to the corporate and community level. The Ray Center success is built on collaborative public/private partnerships that leverage active engagement within education, corporate and non-profit organizations focused on character development, ethical leadership and civility. The Ray Center has two strategic national partners: The Institute for Excellence & Ethics (IEE) and the Josephson Institute.
The Ray Center has trained over 40,000 educators and community leaders in the CHARACTER COUNTS! framework and has engagement in over 90% of Iowa school districts with impact to over 500,000 school-age youth. The Ray Center is a new member to the STEMconnector® Innovation Task Force and the STEMconnector® Higher Education Council a national Council representing all sectors of higher education and chaired by DMACC President Rob Denson, and understands that a focus on STEM transcends all program deliverables of the center.
The Ray Center is advancing new and innovative STEM frameworks impacting K-12, higher education and business through the partnership with IEE. These frameworks utilize a research-based approach with assessment, data-drive planning, customized training, and on-going coaching and support. These initiatives have been driven and influenced through research and assessment from leading businesses and industry organizations such as the Iowa Business Council and the Greater Des Moines Partnership (GDMP).
Drake University is recognized as one of the leading institutions of higher learning in the Midwest. With more than 70 majors, minors, and concentrations and 20 graduate degrees offered through six colleges and schools, Drake enrolls more than 3,300 undergraduates and 1,700 graduate students from 40 states and more than 40 countries. The Drake School of Education offers a STEM endorsement at the elementary and secondary level, as well as a professional strand. In addition, Drake and The Ray Center offer a range of continuing education programs serving working professionals, community members, and area businesses.
In 2012 Drake was selected as the South Central Iowa STEM Hub for the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council with responsibility to fund the implementation of scale-up programs, develop an action plan for the region, conduct a needs/strength analysis in the region and evaluate the implementation of the scale-up programs. Representatives from The Ray Center will work with the Advisory Council and staff to identify, grow, and create STEM programs at the University and in the surrounding area.
Innovative Employer-Driven Pathways
The Ray Center has formed strategic partnerships to close the gap between what business needs and education can deliver related to STEM. The development of STEM connected deliverables has been informed from initial focus group research, alignment with the Governor’s STEM Initiative, and ongoing dialogue on business needs including discussions with major Iowa employers, the Iowa Business Council, Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and the Greater Des Moines Partnership.
The Ray Center and The Institute for Excellence & Ethics partnered with this powerful consortium of leading employers in the state to create a customized Human Capital Survey (HCS) for the Greater Des Moines Partnership, their 22 chamber affiliates and 4,700 business organizations. The Human Capital Survey has gathered two-years of assessment data that aligns to STEMconnector® Capability Platforms of Employability Skills 2.0 and Innovation Excellence 2.0 in the areas of:
- Work Ethic, Critical Thinking, Goal Achievement
- Communication, Collaboration, Teamwork
- Integrity, Responsibility, Leadership
- Priority Management, Stress Reduction, Well-Being.
The Human Capital Survey data gathered for the Greater Des Moines Partnership provides essential insights into the current state around Employability Skills and Innovation Excellence for employers across central Iowa. It is a replicable research-based model for continuously benchmarking employers’ perspectives on job readiness.
Through a second innovative partnership, The Ray Center secured philanthropic support from Hy-Vee Inc. to deliver the research-based Excellence with Integrity™ (EWI) curriculum, which is aligned with the STEMconnector® Employability Skills and Innovation Excellence platforms. Through the collaboration of The Ray Center, the Institute for Excellence & Ethics, and Iowa Area Education Agencies, this research-based curriculum has been made available at no cost to every K-12 Iowa school. Schools access the curriculum through the Iowa Area Education Agencies PD On-Line and the Iowa Personalized Learning System. Hy-Vee is not simply a philanthropic supporter; it is helping to make available a curriculum for STEM readiness, which it has utilized for and with its own employees. (Access to curriculum is also available to education organizations outside of Iowa on a low-cost fee-for-service basis).
The Ray Center provides workplace assessment, data-driven planning, and custom professional development for over two dozen corporate partners, including:
• Hy-Vee, Inc. (81,000 employee regional grocery chain)
• Principal Financial Group (15,000 employee global financial institution)23
• Pella Corporation (6,000 employee manufacturing corporation)
• UnityPoint Health (28,000 multi-state hospital system)
• Prairie Meadows (1,400 employee service-driven entertainment).
These extensive workplace engagements in diverse sectors align directly with the Capability Platforms of STEMconnector® to ensure cutting-edge knowledge and experience around employer needs.
Key STEM Programs
Based on the business input and data, research-based deliverables have been developed in collaborative partnership to impact K-12, higher education and the workplace. The Ray Center, in collaboration with the Institute for Excellence & Ethics (IEE), has focused its efforts on impacting the STEMconnector® Employability Skills and Innovation Excellence Platforms through innovative partnerships focused on delivering professional development, curriculum, and assessment, including the initiatives impacting kindergarten through college, and diverse workplace settings:
K-12 Online Education Curriculum & Professional Development
A partnership has been established with the Iowa Area Education Agencies PD On-Line to deliver the research-based Excellence with Integrity™ (EWI) curriculum (formerly known as Mastering the Art and Science of Excellence and Ethics) to every Iowa K-12 school through the Iowa Personalized Learning System. This innovative collaboration delivers a research-based curriculum aligned with the Employability and Innovation Excellence platforms at no cost to Iowa schools.
Customized on-line training is available for educators who desire to implement the resource material into their work. Beyond standard classroom use, EWI curricular resources have direct application for education professionals and students in alternative education, guidance and athletic settings.
Regarding its impact, Evan Abbey, Program Director for the Iowa AEA PD Online states: “In addition to the Iowa Personalized Learning System and beyond standard classroom engagement, Excellence with Integrity curricular resources have direct application for education professionals and students in alternative education, guidance and athletic settings.”
STEMconnector® 2.0 Career Readiness Program.
A partnership collaboration with Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC) has resulted in the development and field-testing of the Leadership Excellence at DMACC—the LEAD program. Field testing has proved successful in degree programs, internship seminars and technical skill certification programs. LEAD utilizes The Ray Center/IEE’s Excellence with Integrity™: 21st Century and STEMconnector® 2.0 Career Readiness curricular resources, which include:
Facilitator Guides distill the latest research—including topics on social and emotional development, positive psychology, and resiliency—on the core workforce competencies, and introduce replicable strategies, applied practice and real-world simulation activities for coaching on the targeted skills.
Student Workbooks feature class activities for skill development, followed by strategies for self-reflection, goal setting, and monitoring one’s progress.
The Internship & Practicum Handbook shares knowledge about targeted competencies in a professional journal article format, with links to relevant videos, articles, or books for expanded learning; guides practice for skill development with replicable strategies, and introduces Optimal Performance™ assessment instruments for self-reflection and mentor coaching on the simulated or real-world implementation of the targeted skills.
As one DMACC student/LEAD participant explains the impact: “I now know the difference between soft skills and professional skills. And I think employers want both of those things. And with the LEAD program I’ve learned how I can use both of them to help me in the workplace.”
A DMACC faculty member and LEAD instructor states the following: “Soft skills are so important in employability. It’s obvious by taking these skills and what’s being taught to students in this regard and coupling that with the importance of the technology aspect of what we see with STEM, it’s a win-win situation that’s so desperately needed and being embraced by employers all around.”
Elliott Smith, Executive Director of the Iowa Business Council, stated, “The Excellence with Integrity instructional framework is in direct alignment with the Iowa Business Council’s focus on Education and Workforce Readiness calling for the preK-16 education system to promote excellence and ethics in all aspects of performance and moral character strengths needed for 21st Century skills.”
DMACC President Rob Denson stated, “The rigorous and research-based, yet practical and user-friendly, Excellence with Integrity resources provides our instructors engaging educational knowledge that they can easily adapt for integration in their work. This cutting edge educational experience, we believe, affords our students an advantage in their formation and workplace marketability through real-world development of the essential career readiness skills. More than a course or a curriculum, the EWI Knowledge, Tools, and Strategies can be used every day—in and out of the classroom. I am particularly impressed with the engagement and enthusiasm of our faculty in delivering this curriculum and their success in engaging students in STEMconnector® 2.0 Capability Platforms.”
With proof of concept now in place, DMACC plans to deploy the LEAD approach using the Excellence with Integrity™ curriculum, assessment, and professional development framework system-wide with a goal to include certification and evidence of completion on transcripts. Continuing research and development is underway to complete development of the Excellence with Integrity Volume Two (Innovation Excellence), pilot testing of the optimal performance electronic self-evaluation system, and development of the online learning and professional development platforms.