STEM Teacher Externships: Connecting Classroom to Career

April 8, 2021 | Jason Lang

Jason Lang, Project Coordinator - Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council

Since 2009, over 600 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) teachers in the State of Iowa have ventured out of their classrooms and into the future careers of their students.  Science teachers have worked behind the scenes to improve your visit to the zoo and county conservation centers, endured the heat and humidity of the summer to improve water quality and habitat and helped to improve sustainability efforts and product testing procedures at various manufacturers, both large and small. Teachers of mathematics have observed, measured and analyzed manufacturing techniques, assisted businesses with improving the mathematical literacy of their employees and discovered the power of analytical tools.  Our industrial technology teachers are learning about the latest high-tech tools and techniques of the skilled trades, as well as the skills needed to increase productivity and profit.  Our information and computer technology teachers have learned and used programming skills to build and maintain websites, create tools for cost/benefit analysis, payroll management and bid estimation and have learned more about network function and security.  Woven throughout all of the externship experiences are the various engineering disciplines where teachers get a firsthand look at how scientific and mathematical knowledge is used to build, create, solve problems and improve lives. Externship teachers leave the experience armed with answers to two common student questions, “When am I ever going to use this?” and “What’s a job I can do after I graduate?”

Externships are a partnership between teachers and business hosts that last far beyond the five to six weeks during the summer.  Teachers are asked to build project and problem-based lessons for their students that will utilize the expertise of the host to help students or evaluate student learning.  These lessons become the bridge between the classroom and careers of the future.  Each learning target, visit from the host and anecdote of what the teacher did during their summer are the planks that allow students to cross into their future career.  The most exciting thing about a single externship experience is its multiplying effect.  One teacher works with dozens to hundreds of students per year, over a career that spans decades, influencing other teachers and inspiring more school/business partnerships over time. 

The organizational structure to host externships has been provided by the Iowa Governor’s STEM Council since 2011, but what really powers the program is participation.  Externship hosts that bring a teacher on as part of a team to make progress on projects and problems get a great return on their investment. Teachers willing to “give up” their summer are eager and excited to use their skills in new ways and be a valued, contributing member of the team.  The Iowa STEM Teacher Program is always looking for more business hosts representing the entire State of Iowa.  If you would like more information about being an extern host, please visit: and for the answer to your direct questions, please scroll to our Workplace Host Interest Form.