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Nancy Mwirotsi: Rethinking STEM education & distance learning

Guest post by Nancy Mwirotsi.

We must prepare for foundational shifts to virtually all industries, including a necessarily altered workforce profile. All jobs are quickly changing but we are not adapting to change as quickly as we should. While automation and the Internet of things (IoT) are making many processes easier for each one of us, these fast-evolving technologies also present hurdles to overcome, particularly in terms of how we prepare our youth. As a community, we need not wait for an outside force to coddle or coerce us to adapt, rather, we can look to local resources to collectively prepare for and consciously choose the future we want.

This COVID-19 lockdown confirms to us that our outlook on tech and future job trends is correct: we will become increasingly reliant on the capabilities of geographically remote, tech-savvy workers. I, as the founder of PI 515, frequently ask myself many questions such as, ‘What does the future hold?’ and ‘What do I do to create more impact?’ and ‘How do I use this opportunity to help others migrate to and prepare for the future workplace?’ I have been calling for companies to help equip young people with Tech Access – that is the starting place to answer my questions.

While the future of work will be shaped by many forces, the primary driver is technological advancement; closing the tech access gap now requires free wifi access, free equipment and great STEM remote learning tools. 

According to Business Roundtable, technological know-how is crucial for young people preparing to enter the job market. Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that underserved youth are unprepared for jobs of the future. Approximately 1.4 million jobs over the next decade will require tech skills, while only 400,000 people will be trained for them. When given access to appropriate technology used in thoughtful ways, all students; regardless of their respective backgrounds, can make substantial gains in learning and technological readiness. 

To close the technology gap requires organizations like ours to step up and be the space for young people to further their understanding of technology. A lot of summer camps and activities that students had planned have been canceled, so we are filling that void with a virtual summer experience. We have been developing a 6-8 week virtual summer global challenge. This program will have weekly virtual lessons and tasks for students to do research, develop professional and technical skills to enhance their understanding of the future of technology. 

Our challenge now as a community is to rethink education in this new world, and recognize that distance learning is crucial for kids. It allows them to get caught up with school work but also helps them build curiosity and skills. Our economy also depends on us grooming all young people for future work and that work is highly tech-skill dependent. We all must take intentional steps to groom not only those who will become tech producers but also kids who will be ready for a workforce that requires them to be problem solvers and critical thinkers. 

By supporting PI515 today, you help us close the homework gap, digital gap, and skills gap and groom future leaders who will be equipped with the skills to solve future work problems.

Nancy Mwirotsi is the founder of PI515, a nonprofit organization that empowers refugee and disadvantaged youth to success by teaching them technology skills.

Nancy Mwirotsi: Rethinking STEM education & distance learning | 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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