Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Q&A: For more diversity in STEM, start with the teachers

STEM Education

With technology changing how teachers, teach, Clay & Milk wanted to hear from a teacher currently changing.

So we met with Heather Anderson—a second-grade teacher at Grant Ragan Elementary in Waukee— who was nominated for the Academic Innovation and Leadership Award during the Women of Innovation Awards Monday night.

Anderson is also a member of the Des Moines School Board.

She says her students sometimes enjoy, “Low-tech” classroom activities because they are always surrounded by “new-tech.” Whether it’s completing assignments on the touch screen whiteboard, Cubelets for programming, iPads for presentations or Facebook, Anderson is embracing technology.

“And for the better,” she says.

Anderson shared how she incorporates technology into her daily lessons, how to get more diversity into STEM education and initiatives the  Des Moines School Board has to promote diversity in STEM.

Why be a teacher?

HA: I was always a teacher, I’m the oldest, I would set up a classroom at home, I think I’ve always had that mentality. I was a nanny. After high school, I decided that I wasn’t going to go to college and I went out to New York to be a nanny then realized I kind of had to go to college to be a teacher.

My journey took a little bit longer but I got to where I was supposed to be.

How do you utilize technology in your classroom?

HA: I was able to get these two huge carts and we have this extra room this year—probably not next year—and we call it the STEM room. It’s like a maker space. There are all sorts of things that I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to use yet. But I always tell them we are going to learn together.

What I’ve found is they like the low-tech because they don’t do as much. They are still learning. I mean I had these huge boxes from something because I always keep everything, and the kids made these giant mazes. It showed how different angles made the ball go faster or slower, it was like a Rube Goldberg machine.

I mean it’s second grade but some of them came up with amazing things.

Is tech good for education?

HA: It’s the future, it just depends on how you use it and how it best fits your students. I try and find those extra things especially for kids you notice are really techy. And you need to foster whatever they want to do, even if you aren’t the expert.

When I get the Cublets out, one kid was like, ‘Oh I know those.’ So I had him come over and do it, so obviously he’s worked with them before but you can tell that the brain works that way. And it’s good when you learn things like that because he’s not reading where he’s supposed to be reading right now. Not that he’s not smart, it’s just nice to see them shine in other areas.

And if you have somebody say ‘they don’t like to read’, if you find out what they like, they would like to read. Like that one boy, he was reading Minecraft. So it fits.

As a school board member, what would you like to see done with technology in a perfect world?

HA: With the Iowa Stem Council I know Hoover was able to get a big STEM Grant, I’d just like to see more of it.

We had a speaker come and talk about the Skilled Trades and how tech is really part of the Skilled Trades. For them to learn a lot of those trades now, they will have to know a lot of different technology that exists. The guy speaking mentioned how they have to bring in people from other states because we can’t fill those jobs. That’s a huge opportunity that I hope students and parents will realize that can be a really good career.

How can STEM education become more diverse?

HA: When I think of diversity, I really think that since in the United States, non-white students are now the majority, not the minority. So like in a district like Des Moines, what they really need is teachers of color. And we are really trying to even train our own students to be teachers.

There are different STEM programs where they can go to Drake and into a STEM profession.

I really feel like that would be something to change, especially in an urban district or a district where it really is the majority of students are of color. They need to see teachers of color.

Every teacher should be looking at doing more cultural proficiency things they can do with their staff and to prepare their teachers to teach.

Q&A: For more diversity in STEM, start with the teachers | 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
This Pop-up Is Included in the Theme
Best Choice for Creatives
Purchase Now