UI alum receives education award

By Pat Shaver

IOWA CITY—A University of Iowa alum is being recognized for his career-long dedication to encouraging education in science, technology, math and science (STEM).

Jeff Weld will receive the Yager Educational Accomplishment Honor at a presentation this week. The Yager honor is presented each year to a UI College of Education graduate who has demonstrated significant accomplishment or innovation in the K-12 setting. It was established by emeritus professor Robert E. Yager, whose work has helped the UI’s education college earn an international reputation as a leader in science education.

Mr. Weld began his career as a high school biology and chemistry teacher. He has directed Gov. Terry Branstad’s STEM advisory council, which aims to improve STEM education and expertise in Iowa, since 2011, and the Iowa Mathematics and Science Education Partnership, a collaborative effort between the state’s three Iowa Regents institutions, since 2008.

“It’s not so much an education initiative. It’s a rare instance where education and economic development have merged and are on the same page,” Mr. Weld said about the state’s STEM efforts.

Created in 2011, the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council is a partnership of business, policy and education leaders from across the state convening to bolster STEM education and innovation and better position Iowa’s young people and the state’s economy for the future.

As executive director, Mr. Weld oversees 14 different task forces, six regional STEM hubs and convenes the state’s STEM efforts.

“For grades kindergarten and up, there is ample evidence that kids’ minds are made up by fourth grade in many instances whether they feel they have what it takes to continue into advanced levels of math and science study,” Mr. Weld said. “The Corridor is such a mecca for STEM. Iowa is on the front edge of STEM and one reason is because there is bipartisan legislative support. That’s a big difference maker.”

Mr. Weld earned his secondary education certificate in 1983, his master’s degree in science education in 1994, and his doctorate in science education in 1998, all from the UI. He is executive director of the Iowa Governor’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Advisory Council and an associate professor of biology at the University of Northern Iowa.

“The pull to education was an easy one. My case, like so many teachers, I was influenced by my own teachers,” Mr. Weld said.

The award presentation will take place Nov. 19, at 3:30 p.m. in the UI College of Education’s Teacher Leader Center, 140 Lindquist Center North on the UI campus. The event, which is free and open to the public, will include brief remarks from Mr. Weld and a reception from 4-5:30 p.m.

“What I’ve come to realize is that this is not an award about me, it’s an award about the university’s College of Education. I fully grasp that there are a lot of superstars out there that graduated from that program,” he said.

In 2007, Mr. Weld was named the College Biology Teacher of the Year for four-year institutions by the National Association of Biology Teachers. He has published more than 50 articles, essays, and book chapters as well as a textbook, “The Game of Science Education,” which focuses on barriers to innovative science teaching and offers strategies to overcome them.

“STEM is a relatively new phenomenon, but there are people who were thinking about STEM 50 years ago and one of them is my former professor, Bob Yager. He is a pioneer,” Mr. Weld said. ‘When I was an undergrad and he was my professor, his message was, ‘don’t just go out and teach science, but teach how science interfaces with society.’”

Mr. Yager developed one of the largest graduate programs in science education in the U.S. He has directed numerous grants totaling $15 million and has headed seven national organizations, including the National Association for Research in Science Teaching and the National Science Teachers Association. He has authored more than 600 research reports, chapters, monographs and books.

Mr. Yager developed the Iowa Chautauqua Program, a staff development model for K-12 science teachers. The program received national recognition from the National Diffusion Network, National Staff Development Council, and the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. The program has been transported to over a dozen other states and nations.

Mr. Yager retired from the UI in 2006 but remains active in science education. For more information on STEM, visit www.iowastem.gov.