The Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and Kemin Industries joined together to honor teachers who are inspiring Iowa’s students to develop a passion for STEM subjects. The Iowa STEM Teacher Award Program is for teachers who are making a significant difference in the lives of students across the state by providing excellent curriculum, encouraging lifelong learning and inspiring a passion for STEM beyond the classroom and into the future.
The a panel of judges selected the recipients of the 2022 Iowa STEM Teacher Award, including:
Northwest STEM Region
Susan Oehlertz, K-12 Technology Integrationist and Computer Science Teacher, teaches computer science to all grade levels, focusing on how her lessons connect to STEM careers. She was a driving force behind PAC’s application for the Computer Science is Elementary project to transform computer science education at PAC Elementary School. The award has allowed the school to purchase and utilize computer science and robotics resources that give students hands-on experience. Additionally, she works closely with other PAC educators to integrate computer science with other subjects. Lessons have combined computer science and robotics with mathematics, natural science, engineering and English language arts to engage students. In addition to her classroom work, Oehlertz also advocated for a Makerspace room at the school, where she leads monthly STEM challenges.
North Central STEM Region
Jamie Pudenz, agricultural science teacher at Aplington-Parkersburg High School, leverages partnerships to create hands-on learning opportunities for his students. challenges his students to think differently, focusing on the process of working toward an answer, rather than just the answer itself. In an engineering course, he challenges students to design and build a working backhoe with plastic syringes, tuning, wooden dowels and cardboard. In 2020, Pudenz completed an Iowa STEM Teacher Externship with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) at the Big Marsh Wildlife Management Area. That experience inspired a new natural resources and environmental management course at Aplington-Parkersburg High School. Students work directly with the Iowa DNR to contribute to projects like population and disease tracking in local wildlife. In 2021, Pudenz and his plant science students met with Dr. Michael Bechtel, an associate professor of science at Wartburg College, to explore aquaponics: an approach to food production where plants are cultivated in water rather than soil. The collaboration helped the class overcome challenges they were facing, allowing them to build their own aquaponics system in the course.
Northeast STEM Region
Donna Schmitt, technology teacher at Carver Elementary School, brought computer science into elementary school classrooms and expanded STEM learning opportunities for all students at the school. She directly connects technology to real-world applications. Her students have simulated international trade by programming robots, researched animals and their habitats for coding projects and animated digital stories. Beyond her work on computer science, Schmitt has created new opportunities for students to engage with STEM at every grade level. She created a STEAM program for all students, preschool through fifth grade. In the program, students are given challenges to explore STEM skills. She has made an impact beyond Carver Elementary School, helping expand First Lego League with the help of partners at John Deere and Rockwell Collins by promoting the program and training new coaches. And now, she is working with the Dubuque Community School District to bring computer science to all local schools.
Southwest STEM Region
Adam Cox, science instructor for grades 7-12 at Woodbine Community Schools, helps students find a passion for STEM with hands-on activities that prepare them for bright futures. After attending a professional development session through the University of Iowa’s STEM Innovator program, Cox was inspired to create and implement a similar STEM program for students at Woodbine High School. The resulting course focuses on engineering, allowing students to apply design thinking to real-world problems. Students who complete the course earn three college credits from the University of Iowa. Cox helped develop—and now teaches—curriculum for Ignite Pathways, a first-of-its-kind educational experience in the region. Through the program, students can explore STEM careers while earning high school credit. The program’s focus is hands-on projects, and it has been especially beneficial for students who thrive outside traditional classrooms
South Central STEM Region
Kristen Recher, a fifth grade teacher at Northeast Elementary School in Ankeny, incorporates STEM into her classroom across subjects. She teaches all subjects to her fifth graders and incorporates STEM whenever possible. From exploring uses of mathematics in the real world to incorporating STEM career stories from diverse voices into literature lessons, her curriculum truly represents the transdisciplinary nature of STEM. Recher focuses on hands-on activities that allow students to make choices in their learning. In addition to her work in the classroom, Recher is dedicated to professional development. She has earned her master’s degree in education, with a literacy endorsement, and is in the process of earning a STEM endorsement. Throughout her career, she has worked closely with other educators to better incorporate STEM into her curriculum.
Southeast STEM Region
Terri Smith, technology STEM teacher at Central Dewitt Middle School, focuses on concepts that build over time. She helps middle school students understand the foundation of computer science before building on those concepts. Students start with “unplugged” activities, learning important vocabulary and how to give commands to a computer. Eventually, students move to programming simple robots to follow a pattern on paper. Once students understand the concepts well enough to explain them to others, Smith pairs her seventh- and eighth-grade students with intermediate and middle school special education learners to work through challenges together. This teaches students how to use collaboration to explore STEM. She also works to highlight women in STEM for her students. She has been certified to teach the Femineer program through the University of Iowa and Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Engineering. This program helps promote STEM education and careers to female students by offering hands-on activities that boost confidence and increase interest in STEM.