The University of Iowa


With 31,000 students, The University of Iowa (UI) is one of the nation’s top research universities, ranked 34th among the nation’s 629 public universities. Founded in 1847, it is the oldest university in Iowa, a state with 3 million people. Nicknamed the Hawkeyes, the black and gold school colors proudly fly across the state, nation, and globe. 

Known around the world for its balanced commitment to the arts, sciences, and humanities, the UI is home to one of the nation’s largest academic medical centers, the pioneering Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and over 200 degree and certificate options for an affordable, accessible education. The UI serves as a major economic driver in the state. One of Iowa’s top employers, the UI is responsible for the creation of one of every 30 jobs in the state, or approximately 52,000 positions. Home to the state’s only medical, dental, pharmacy, and law colleges, the UI educates many of the state’s STEM professionals including 79% of Iowa’s dentists, 50% of Iowa’s physicians, 48% of Iowa’s pharmacists, as well as teachers and administrators in each of the state’s K–12 school districts. 

This fall the UI welcomed its largest, most academically accomplished and diverse undergraduate class with 21 percent of students identifying as African-American, American Indian, native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Asian, Latino, or two or more races. First generation college students account for 24% of the class. STEM employers in Iowa and across the nation identify diversity in the workforce as fostering creativity and driving innovation. In a Forbes survey, 85 percent of respondents note diversity is crucial to achieve businesses goals. The UI works closely with K-12 schools to attract and retain this talented next generation workforce of diverse leaders, especially in STEM fields. Innovation in STEM is essential to maintain Iowa’s expanding and increasingly diversified industries and to attracting and retaining Iowa’s future leaders. Business Insider ranked Iowa 18th among the 50 U.S. state economies. Agriculture remains a top economic driver along with advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, biotechnology, financial services, and information and communications technologies. Innovation and technology are also driving new start-up companies. In Iowa, 86% of companies have fewer than 20 employees, emphasizing the importance of our youth employing an entrepreneurial mindset. Students in K-12 classrooms hold the key to advances in STEM that will drive future research and innovation at the University of Iowa and expand Iowa’s STEM economy. 

Creating Business, University, Community College, and K-12 Models of Engagement 

The University of Iowa is a leader in the research, development, and facilitation of Business-University-Community College- K-12 School (BUCCS) partnership models. The UI works closely with the Iowa Governor’s STEM Council, discussed by Iowa’s Lt. Governor Kim Reynold’s in Advancing a Jobs-Driven Economy, to leverage the expertise and meet the needs of multiple stakeholders interested in improving K-12 STEM education in Iowa. A definition of STEM, created by the Center for STEM Education and the Leonard Gelfand Center for Service Learning and Outreach at Carnegie Mellon University, guides our work: 

STEM is an interdisciplinary approach to learning where rigorous academic concepts are coupled with real-world lessons as students apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics in contexts that make connections between school, community, work and the global enterprise enabling the development of STEM literacy and with it the ability to compete in the new economy. 

To bring this definition of STEM to life over 100 leaders from business/industry (from large companies to start-ups), The University of Iowa (Office of the Provost, Colleges of Education, Engineering, and Business), Kirkwood Community College (administrators, faculty), and K-12 administrators and teachers have collaborated since 2010. Monthly meetings facilitate sharing of goals, expertise, and resources to develop K-12 STEM opportunities to meet the needs of our community. To determine needs from a larger audience, partners conducted and shared assessments to inform the work moving forward. 

A needs assessment conducted by the UI with Iowa K-12 schools indicated 28 of 32 school administrators identified partnerships with local STEM industries as a top priority. Administrators struggle with how to provide teachers skills to facilitate engagement with industry partners while attending to other goals of incorporating 21st century skills, meeting college and career readiness benchmarks, implementing problem-based learning and increasing the interest and achievement in STEM of all students to close the achievement gap. Of 641 STEM teachers surveyed, 89.7% indicated they were confident professional development would benefit them in meeting these priorities. 

Iowa’s Creative Corridor, an economic alliance group, together with Kirkwood Community College conducted a series of Skills Reports assessing employment trends, employee skill needs, and viable partnership opportunities with K-12. Employers identified interest in 1) engaging with students at a younger age, and 2) forming partnerships to assist faculty and counselors in understanding the region’s industries, job opportunities, skill needs, and wage rates. 

Together the findings inform UI’s STEM outreach and engagement programming to better align to the needs of employers and assist in decisions on how to allocate resources for existing and new K-12 STEM initiatives. 

Innovative Models 

The University of Iowa has a long tradition of scientists, engineers, health care providers, and STEM education faculty delivering outreach and engagement opportunities for K-12 students and teachers. Examples of longstanding models include, The University of Iowa Health Care STEM Education Experiences (51,000 students impacted), Hawk-Eyes on Science/Space (physics and astronomy), Project Lead the Way, State Hygienic Laboratory (public health), Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education, Office of the State Archeologist, and the Museum of Natural History. The goal of the programs is to increase achievement and interest in STEM and expose students to diverse career fields. In addition to these established programs, the UI collaborated to develop new programs specifically designed to address STEM industry needs, the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa and the STEM Innovator program. 

Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa: Driven by Industry Need 

To meet our growing demand for a highly skilled workforce, Kirkwood Community College, The University of Iowa, seven Iowa school districts, and business and industry partners strategically aligned to form a unique partnership with the creation of the Kirkwood Regional Center at The University of Iowa. Opened in the fall of 2015, the Center engages approximately 500 high school students for part of the day in career and industry-driven experiences not available at their home school due to low enrollment numbers, lack of qualified staff, or expense of facilities and equipment to run a specialized course. Framed by a global vision with an emphasis on local economic impact, the Center facilitates opportunities for students to become creative, skilled, and entrepreneurial-minded participants in the Iowa workplace to sustain the competitive advantage and quality of life in our region. The Center draws on the collective expertise and resources of all partners and serves as a national and state model for innovation in education. Highlights of the Center: 

  • Innovative, high tech career academies with industry-recognized certifications 
  • Transferrable college credit at no cost to families 
  • Engagement with industry experts and access to high-tech facilities to work on projects in authentic professional work environments 
  • State-of-the-art technology enhanced classroom encouraging real-time collaboration with industry experts across Iowa and the nation 
  • Opportunities to join research projects with University of Iowa faculty 
  • Scholarship and financial aid services, academic advising and career counseling services 
  • Multiple pathways after completing career academies, including immediate employment, college certificates, diplomas, and associates, bachelors and graduate degrees 
  • Pre-service teacher practicum experiences, professional development for in-service teachers 
  • Opportunities for faculty, industry partners, and graduate students to design, deliver evaluate and research programming 
  • Home to the Iowa Governor’s Southeast Iowa STEM Hub 

STEM Innovator: Infusing Entrepreneurship and Innovation in K-12 Schools 

  • In 2013, the University of Iowa’s Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship and the College of Education created STEM Innovator, a teacher professional development program assisting schools seeking to incorporate innovation, entrepreneurship, and STEM industry partnerships into the curriculum. Teacher and administrative teams developed implementation models to match school, community, and industry needs. Teachers piloted the innovative curriculum, pedagogy and assessments and ongoing collaborative team meetings informed future revisions. STEM Innovator worked closely with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to share the program nationally and leverage their resources and expertise in innovation and intellectual property. Currently, 34 unique STEM Innovator models, reaching 17,000 students, are occurring across Iowa. The program will begin offering national professional development in the summer of 2016. 

STEM Innovator is the first course jointly developed by the partners at the Center and offered as a pilot course in the fall, 2015. Teams of students collaborate with industry and community experts to develop solutions to problems of student and community interest. Industry engagement includes curriculum and assessment development to attend to adjusting business needs; mentorship of teams; providing facilities, equipment and speakers; development of authentic problems for student teams to solve; assessment of student projects and career readiness skills; and hosting work-based internships. Table 1 identifies attributes industry experts identified as important in the course. 

Table 1. Skills, Attributes, and Content Students Learn and Demonstrate in STEM Innovator 


  • Problem Identification 
  • Design Thinking       
  •       Rapid Prototyping 
  • Customer Discovery 
  • Intellectual Property 
  • Imagination, Creativity 
  • Access and Analyze Information 
  • Value Proposition 
  • Minimal Viable Product 
  • STEM Innovator Canvas 
  • Project Management, Productivity 
  • STEM Content and Concepts 
  • Initiative, Self-direction, Persistence 
  • Conflict Management 
  • Critical Thinking 
  • Initiative and Self-direction 
  • Entrepreneurial Mindset 
  • Agility and Adaptability 
  • Effective Communication Skills 
  • Problem Solving 
  • Leadership 
  • Technology Literacy3 
  • Curiosity 
  • Innovation and Inventiveness 
  • Collaboration 
  • Financial Literacy 
  • Prioritization 

The University of Iowa will continue to work with Kirkwood Community College to develop career academies at the Center and provide STEM Innovator professional development nationally to meet the goal of every student being career and college ready when they leave high school. 


C110 Pomerantz Center
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States