In December, Mary Andringa was named to replace the retiring Ben Allen as co-chair of Gov. Terry Branstad’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Advisory Council. Andringa, whose father, Gary Vermeer, founded agriculture equipment manufacturer Vermeer Corp. in 1948, will take over on the STEM Council on July 1. She brings to the post the perspectives she has gained from being CEO of Vermeer since 2003 and from being a teacher in Iowa City early in her career. Andringa recently completed a two-year stint as the chair of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and also serves on the President’s Export Council.


What made you want to be in a top position on the STEM Council?

Two things. One, I’ve always been very interested in education, in continuous learning, and as a former teacher, I see the importance of emphasizing science, technology, engineering and math with our students. I’m particularly conscious of how important it is to make more inroads with younger women in the STEM fields. Secondly, as an employer, and having been involved in some national groups, workforce development is one of the top issues we deal with. Really, for the last many years, a skilled workforce is always one of the top five issues that manufacturers talk about. I know that’s true, not just for manufacturers, but for really all businesses. So we’ve got an opportunity to really make sure that we’ve got the right focus in all levels of education from probably preschool through graduate school.


What are your goals on the council?

I want to help the state, and to help the lieutenant governor and all those people who have already dedicated a lot of time and energy to the council to build on a solid foundation that’s already been created in the first year. And to definitely help expand STEM learning opportunities for our young Iowans, and also to really help Iowa reclaim kind of a leadership in STEM education. When I grew up, I remember, Iowa was always No. 1 or No. 2 in a lot of the ACT kinds of testing. And right now, we’re not in that No. 1 or 2 position in some of those areas. And I think right now we’ve got a really good opportunity with the energy that we’ve got going in the state of Iowa to be a real leader in STEM education.


What do you feel you’ve been able to accomplish with the National Association of Manufacturers?

I believe there was a lot of rhetoric in the campaign last year on both sides, both Republicans and Democrats, talking about manufacturing. In the State of the Union, President Obama talked about manufacturing. So I think one of my goals, if I could make any dents as being the chair, was to raise the visibility in the general public about manufacturing. Have we done that fully? Not at all. But I think we made a little dent.


What do people need to know about Vermeer that they may not know?

I find that a lot of people in Iowa just think that we make hay bailers. We’re very proud of our hay bailers, but they can be almost closer to a consumer product. Most of the other products are sold to contractors. But we’re pretty diverse. So I guess the thing would be, we’re diverse in our product offerings, we’re diverse in the markets that we serve, and about 33 percent of all of our business happens outside the United States. A lot of things people don’t realize about us, and I’m sure that’s the same thing with a lot of companies in the state.


What is the biggest challenge facing your company?

We are still dealing with a fair amount of uncertainty in the U.S. economy and various economies around the world. So it’s just managing through some of those uncertainties, and it’s an increasingly competitive world, so we need to continually look at how we add more value to our solutions to gain our customers’ respect in our business.


What do you do for fun?


Probably top priority would be spending time with my family, my husband and children, and most importantly six grandchildren. I’m a big believer that very young children already display their passions and what they love in life, and it’s fun to see in your grandchildren the things that really captivate their interest at a young age and watch them kind of explore those passions as they grow up. My husband and I also enjoy some travel, which is more leisure travel. One of my goals is to visit every national park. I’m probably up around 30, so there’s a way to go.