By Andy Goodell
“Living in rural, southwestern Iowa, the program has afforded learning opportunities for my students that would have otherwise been impossible,” says Andrea Reilly (BA ’97). Reilly is the K-12 talented and gifted coordinator at Atlantic Community School District in Atlantic, Iowa.
The STEM Excellence and Leadership program is a half-million-dollar grant pro-gram funded by a Talent Development Award from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation aiming to enrich the lives of talented and gifted rural Iowa students.
Lori Ihrig (BA ’98; MA ’03), supervisor for curriculum and instruction at the Belin-Blank Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development, serves as project director for all STEM Excellence and Leadership programming.
“The STEM Excellence and Leadership program is a way for us to ensure that rural high-ability students have access to opportunities for advanced academic study in STEM,” says Ihrig.
The program involves 10 rural school districts across Iowa and around 40 educators. More than 500 students have benefitted from the above-level testing the STEM Excellence and Leadership program offers. More than 200 students have also participated in its extracurricular STEM programming.
Reilly works with Ihrig on programming funded through the program.
“Students have built robots and researched recycling with the end result of making biodegradable water bottles, to name a few things. Students have been enriched in a way a normal classroom setting does not always provide. The program has opened the door for many students who otherwise never would have had the opportunity to explore.
In the long term, the STEM Excellence and Leadership program aims to decrease barriers and create opportunities to support high-achieving rural students’ achievement, aspirations, and preparation. This will ensure they are situated to effectively navigate the educational pathways necessary for STEM academic and career success at the highest levels.