What can you tell us about STEM Excellence?


The Belin-Blank Center is honored to accept funding from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to support math and science programming for underrepresented rural Iowa students. And I am thrilled to be receiving inquiries from across the state about STEM Excellence following yesterday’s Talent Development Award announcement. While STEM Excellence begins in earnest with applications opening in January 2015, I will not make you wait that long for more information!

 What is STEM Excellence?

The STEM Excellence program will be implemented in K–12 schools, designed for students in grades 6­–8, and provides university-based support for math and science teachers. STEM Excellence has two major components: 1) an extracurricular enrichment curriculum in mathematics and science for high-ability middle school students, and 2) professional development for teachers in the enrichment curriculum, math and science content, and gifted education.

With funding from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, we will work jointly with school districts to serve high-potential, low-income students. We champion the principles of access, diversity, and equality through several major programs for high potential, low-income pre‑college students. Through STEM Excellence we aim to empower academically able students from under-represented, low-income backgrounds. Empowerment means discovering students early and providing an intervention of specialized programming to promote their academic and social-emotional development.

Why STEM Excellence?

Research offers extensive support regarding the positive impact of university-based programs—such as STEM Excellence—on high-ability students. In Karen Rogers 2007 literature review, she found that “If one reads the five lessons that can be learned from this [synthesis of research], one quickly comes to understand that there is a need to find some means to group gifted learners at times for their learning and socialization, along with a need to move them ahead in some form when their learning out-strips the curriculum they are offered” (p. 382).

Furthermore, studies of course selection among high school students found that studying algebra in 8th grade leads to students taking additional math courses in high school, college, and beyond (Spielhagen, 2006). One goal of the STEM Excellence program is to encourage students to enroll in algebra by 8th grade. In a STEM Excellence pilot study, we found that students who completed the program were more likely to take algebra in grades 7 or 8 than in grade 9. Early entrance to algebra put these students on a trajectory to take calculus before college. Even though small, rural schools in Iowa are less likely to offer calculus on site, students in the pilot project had access to calculus via the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA).

STEM Excellence focuses on math and science in grades 6­–8 as a conduit to more advanced coursework in high school. For example, these students may choose to take Advanced Placement courses through IOAPA, which provides this coursework at no charge to schools. Individual students who qualify for free and reduced lunch take the AP exams at a reduced fee.

 Who can participate in STEM Excellence?

 STEM Excellence will directly serve high-ability middle-school students living in high-need, small or rural Iowa school districts. To become a STEM Excellence school and establish a partnership with us, you must complete the application process that opens January 2015. The three ranked factors that will guide the selection process are: 1) high percentages of families who qualify for free and reduced lunch (FRL), 2) demographics that indicate predominately rural or small schools, and 3) a history of participation in the Iowa Online Advanced Placement Academy (IOAPA).

 What does STEM Excellence cost?

We will sponsor STEM Excellence with generous support from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Each selected school receives materials, services, and financial support to support program implementation.

What if I want to know more about STEM Excellence?

badge_2I will use social media to keep you up-to-date as we unveil our website, set our professional development series, and begin to accept applications. So, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, read our newsletter, or check back in on our blog.

Let’s raise the aspirations and achievement of Iowa’s children, and nurture STEM excellence.

Lori M. Ihrig, Ph.D.
Administrator for Curriculum & Instruction

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