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Guest opinion: Real-world applications in the classroom help engage female students in STEM


By Tracy Sandbothe | Business teacher, Dowling Catholic High School

As a female teacher promoting STEM education, I see a lot of opportunities for young women entering the workforce. However, I know there have been challenges to get — and keep — them interested in STEM-related careers. I want to show all my students, especially those young women, what’s possible. So I’m bringing real-world applications of STEM concepts to everyone in my classroom.

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to participate in the Iowa STEM Externships Program offered by the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. The program places educators with STEM employers to work alongside their staff and learn about current careers firsthand. 

One of my fellow teachers at Dowling Catholic High School previously was involved and strongly encouraged me to apply. One of the program goals is to bring those real-world applications we learn back to the classroom.

As a business teacher at Dowling, I’ve seen how STEM has become such an important component of education in recent years. Over the next decade, technology-related jobs are slated to grow at a much higher rate than many other career areas. I wanted to gain more insight to share with my students considering their futures — and show them what’s possible.

My six-week externship with the Des Moines Parks and Recreation Planning Division involved assisting with changes to their webpages on the city of Des Moines’ website. I worked with members of the Planning Division to identify recommended updates that would make the pages more user-friendly and informative for the end user.

From this experience, I have already added the concept of User Experience (UX) as a field of study to my curriculum. I’ve taught the concept in the past, but now I can incorporate my experience. Being involved with the decision-making was an important takeaway. I observed how ideas were presented, how discussions were handled and the process of getting to a final decision. This was beneficial not just for my technology class, but for my business classes as well.

As a teacher, I’m always looking to serve as an example to my students. There are so many different kinds of technology-related careers, but women aren’t always well represented in the industry. Women make up half the workforce, so I feel we can do a better job. STEM advocates need to get the word out about STEM-related activities and programs. With all that work, I hope the ratio of women in STEM will be changing.

The technology field holds almost endless possibilities. The perception of STEM-related careers or jobs focusing on technology has changed greatly since my days in school. A young woman from one of my classes last year went to Webster University this year to study interactive digital media. These are the types of degrees that get you a job with Pixar. How cool is that?

I’m excited where we’ll be in the next 10 years as things continue to change. I encourage anyone interested in STEM to check it out and research the growing number of opportunities that exist in the STEM field.

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