What began fourteen years ago with a few brave teachers crossing the threshold into businesses for summer immersion has blossomed into one of Iowa’s most effective educator-employer partnerships. Initiated with start-up funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, then expanded with a National Science Foundation grant before adoption by Iowa’s STEM Council, a total of 230 workplaces have now hosted nearly 800 teacher-externships. Ninety-five percent of participants call it the most effective professional development they’ve ever had.
“I would love for it to become standard practice for businesses to offer these experiences [and] for teachers to engage in them regularly,” said Jason Lang, who hung up his coordinator’s clipboard last summer after guiding the program from the start. Under his management, the program steadily grew, tripling in year 2, octupling soon after. Program growth necessitated the hire of Meghan (Reynolds) Lang away from a research lab to co-coordinate. To whomever says there’s no romance in STEM, Jason and Meghan beg to differ – STEM sparked their marriage in 2017.
“Seeing the teacher externs get re-energized and excited to go back to the classroom as a result of their Externship experience is incredibly rewarding,” Meghan reflected this week, now teaching science alongside Jason at Cedar Falls High School, and parenting their four-year old Lily. “She considers anything from hiking in the woods to a trip to the recycling center to be an adventure,” said Meghan about their decision to pass the torch. “I want to go on those adventures as a family and keep that curiosity growing!”
During their tenure, Jason and Meghan stacked numerous innovations onto the program, including the establishment of an online professional learning community, teacher-participant lesson plans from the work-world anchored to learning standards, partnership with Iowa Public Television on science phenomena for externs, a massive pivot to virtual Externships in 2020, and an extensive slide deck “Yearbook” instrumental in recruitment. Other states have noticed. From Tulsa to Tampa to Tuscaloosa, Iowa’s teacher-externship model has been adopted with hopes for similar success.
Today, Marc Benedict, retiring teacher, administrator and STEM champion at Graettinger-Terril High School carries the torch for taking STEM Teacher Externships to new heights. Marc is in interim status until a full search can be conducted next spring. Contact him to host an extern, to be an extern or to learn more at Benedict@IowaSTEM.org.