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STEM @ Drake comes to fruition

Drake University

Drake University has a new type of water cooler.

Two years of construction and nearly $30 million in donations helped turn the STEM @ Drake initiative into the Science Connector Building and Collier-Scripps Hall. The $52 million project is to meet calls for more science- and math-based education.

The $21 million, 55,000 square foot Science Connector Building clusters the neuroscience, molecular biology, human performance and environmental science departments; The $15 million, 50,000 square foot Collier-Scripps Hall is home to the Department of Education, Mathematics, Computer Science and The Robert D. and Billie Ray Center.

Emily Anderson— a senior studying Enviornmental Science and biology—says professors are calling it the, “New water cooler.”

“Just because that way you can see what other people are doing in a more casual way,” Anderson said. “You can see students there as well as other professors.”

Fellow senior Noah Skantz said the new concept better prepares him for medical school and other students for life after Drake University.

“They are moving to a model where they don’t keep medical students by themselves, they are together with the pharmacy and dentistry students,” Skantz says. “This really reflects that.”

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Making students marketable

Standing inside a classroom in the Science Connector Building Biology Professor Marc Busch explains that the room has no designated front, allowing the teacher to teach from anywhere.

And with three different projectors that can each split into four screens, students can work on multiple tasks at once.

“This room is designed for group work environment, rather than teachers speaking at students,” Busch says. “This allows students to engage and interact with each other, which is a skill some don’t want but is critical for their future. You have to be able to engage and interact with people. These type of rooms allow you to develop skills beyond just course material.”

Each floor of the Science Connector Building is themed to create a collaborative learning enviornment. The second floor was designed around a centralized lab that is accessible from six connected classrooms or labs. The third floor has a 120-foot-long track equipped with force plates so students from various programs can study how walking, running or sprinting affects human joints and the fourth floor has a greenhouse.

Keith Summerville, Professor of Environmental Science and Sustainability, says the Science Connector Building was designed around learning outcomes, not academic departments.

“We are deliberately delivering instruction that is going to put somebody in a biochemistry class next to somebody in an environmental science class, to try and solve problems,” Summerville said. “Yet they are all working on the same problem, issues of human health and wellness, from a molecular perspective.”

Summerville says all of the rooms on the second floor spoke off the central hub where most of the research grade instrumentation is housed.

“If we can position ourselves as a friend to industry and use in our laboratories problem based learning that focuses on industry derived challenges or problems, we will be a much better partner with the city of Des Moines,” Summerville says. “And a much more elite institution for science education.”

STEM @ Drake comes to fruition | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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