With a 2011 executive order, Gov. Terry Branstad created the STEM Advisory Council, a group of about 50 educators, businesspeople and elected officials from across the state who would focus on expanding opportunities for science, technology, engineering and math education in Iowa.

At its helm since then has been Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Under her leadership, the council has focused on expanding opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math for all students, especially those in rural areas as well as women and students of color.

"We recognize that there's great STEM initiatives in Iowa, but we also recognize that they're not reaching everyone," Reynolds said at a 2012 event that highlighted STEM education. She and Branstad tied the expansion of STEM to a faster economic recovery after the nation's downturn in 2007.

"This is where the really good jobs of the future are going to be," Branstad said at the event.


President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Branstad as the next U.S. ambassador to China set in motion a series of political moves that will likely, at some point in 2017, make Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds the governor of Iowa.

The promotion, though, won't take her away entirely from her work promoting STEM education in the state.

"She's indicated she fully intends to maintain her co-chair position," said Jeff Weld, the executive director of the STEM Advisory Council. "I just suspect I'm not going to see as much of her."

Weld said he thinks Reynolds' promotion will put more weight behind her push for STEM education.

"She is an indefatigable advocate," Weld said. "We so treasure her leadership on this thing, so moving to the post of governor — Gov. Terry Branstad is a STEM advocate as well, after all it was his executive order that created this council — but no question, ... I see this being elevated by her own transition."

The governor's special assistant for education, Linda Fandel, said too that Reynolds' governorship could bolster the state's emphasis on STEM education.

"Both the governor and the lieutenant governor are still very much working as a team," Fandel said. "They're both very dedicated to making sure students have a strong STEM education."

Among the council's initiatives are 18 sponsorships of school-business partnerships across the state and work to expand computer science education in Iowa, Weld said. It also has offered professional development in STEM for teachers.

Many of the efforts are meant to address Iowa's "brain drain," an enduring problem of students leaving for out-of-state jobs.

"When the kids are connected with local employers, they are (saying) that Iowa might be a cool place to live and work," Weld said, noting that an informal survey found students in STEM programs are more likely to say they will stay in Iowa after completing their studies.

©2017 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.