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University of Iowa News Release


April 29, 2010

UI to host Iowa STEM Symposium, National Lab Day May 4

Iowa will have more informed business leaders, scientists and citizens if more students study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

That will be the theme of the Iowa STEM Symposium to be hosted at the University of Iowa on Tuesday, May 4. Hosted in conjunction with National Lab Day, the symposium will bring together some 150 middle school students and 50 educators and business and community leaders from across Eastern Iowa.

Seeking to inspire a wave of future innovators, Iowa STEM Symposium activities will engage students in hands-on learning that will demonstrate how teamwork, critical thinking and multidisciplinary collaboration are fostered in STEM-related careers. Students will explore, experiment, test and maybe even get their hands dirty in learning labs across the University of Iowa campus.

"Some students will learn about how virtual environments are used to train emergency medicine practitioners, advance the safety of our soldiers and observe how medication may be impairing drivers, while others will wear the hats of a geoscientist to explore Iowa’s water quality or a food-borne disease detective to crack the case of a contamination outbreak," said Chad Ruback, assistant vice president of external relations at University of Iowa Health Care. "At the end of the day, each student will have learned more about the role of STEM education in our every day lives and in the exploration of careers of potential interest"

At the same time, teachers and community members will explore how their collaboration will inspire the next geoscientist to care for Iowa’s rivers and biomedical engineer and genetics researcher to keep Iowa on the leading edge of discovery.

"This day represents one of the many ways we're bringing together leaders in business, government, education and communities to positively impact and influence science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education in Iowa," said Lyn Countryman, executive director of the Iowa Math and Science Coalition, the event's host organization.

At the May 4 symposium, the central theme will be the importance of STEM studies to our nation, said special guest speaker Gina Schatteman, UI associate professor of integrative physiology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. She is currently on leave to take a two-year fellowship through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Schatteman, who will return to teaching at the UI this fall, has focused her fellowship on planning National Lab Day -- a joining of volunteer professionals in the sciences with students in grades 6-12. Based at the National Institutes of Health's Office of Science Education in Washington, D.C., she has helped recruit more than 200 scientific organizations to partner in providing middle and high school students with hands-on learning experiences. Her UI talk will be an outgrowth of her fellowship work.

"I will discuss the implications of the failure to improve STEM education for our youth, economy and political stability," she said. "The problem is soluble, but the public must recognize it as a problem and the vested interests need to compromise. Like global warming, we acknowledge that there is a problem, but we minimize it, so we can put off dealing with it."

Schatteman said that educational improvements will, of course, require hard work from students and teachers, but parents and the broader community also need to pitch in.

"A culture of learning comes from parents," she said. "Parents must encourage their children to learn and back that up with actions. They can help with homework, limit activities so that a child has time for homework and sleep, have family dinners, show children that they value education by learning something new. They should assume the child will go to college or technical school after high school."

Similarly, community members have important roles to play.

"Make noise. Put pressure on vested interests to collaborate, cooperate and compromise. Make sure that every sector of the community recognizes the importance of STEM education to economic growth, social justice and political stability," she said.

Why should the average person on the street care?

"In the old days a person could work on an assembly line and make a solid middle class wage," she said. "Where are those jobs now? The low-skill ones have been outsourced to countries with cheap labor. The rest have been automated. If you are an employer, who would you rather have running that machine? Someone who has memorized the manual and can respond to any crisis outlined in it or somebody who can apply sound scientific and engineering principles to respond to a problem that isn’t in the manual. If the kids in India learn to do this, but ours don’t, why keep the factory here?"

Planners of the Iowa STEM Symposium say the symposium itself is only the beginning. Teachers, community leaders and others have been granted a charter by the governor's office to help create a strategic STEM education and coalition building plan for Iowa.

For more information on National Lab Day Web see A related site, where Schatteman was lead developer of a place designed to provide information, training materials and resources for National Lab Day volunteers is at

Also, see the site for the Iowa Math and Science Coalition:

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Gary Galluzzo, writer, 319-384-0009,