Iowa teachers gain experience through summer 'externships'

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Greg Moklestad traded his Dubuque Senior High School classroom for an office in the Millwork District this summer.

The computer science and engineering teacher spent the past month working with DMI LLC and Design Mill Inc., two Dubuque sister companies that focus on emerging technology, digital engineering and software development, among other professional services.

His employment is part of the Iowa STEM Teacher Externships Program, offered through the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. Educators in the program spend six weeks in science, technology, engineering and math-oriented workplaces, receiving a stipend and graduate credit for their work.

“I like getting back into the work field to help keep my content relevant for students,” said Moklestad, who previously completed an externship with John Deere in 2018. “It also helps me see what employers want and need.”

The Dubuque Telegraph Herald reports that 80 teachers participated in the statewide externship program this summer. The program launched in 2009, and since that time, nearly 800 teachers have worked as externs with businesses and nonprofits in a variety of industries.

Area teachers participating in the program said they gained a wide range of skills and techniques to implement in their classrooms, while businesses touted the new insights that the externs have brought to the workplace.

“It’s always interesting to get a different perspective on what we do,” said Jasmine Nobis-Olson, creative content manager with DMI. “In our field, there’s so much innovation and things move so quickly, … so any fresh ideas are welcome in emerging technologies.”

Moklestad has spent his externship working with advanced LIDAR technologies, which use laser imaging and scanning to create digital environments. He said he plans to integrate more software engineering and computer science coding into his classes at Senior after learning about the importance of those skills at DMI.

Roger Poling teaches business administration, computer science and personal finance at Hempstead High School. He is wrapping up his externship in MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center’s marketing and communications department.

Among other duties, Poling has worked on a marketing plan for the retail pharmacy portion of MercyOne, which he will bring back to his classroom this fall as a project-based learning task for his students to help complete.

“What I’m hoping to get out of this, personally, is keeping the information I’m teaching my kids about marketing current,” he said. “... The project-based learning allows them to internalize and experience that, and it’s something that they can see going beyond the classroom.”

The Dubuque hospital also welcomed two Senior science teachers, Kelly Giesemann and Stephanie Monahan, who worked as externs on the clinical side.

Christina Schauer, the hospital’s director of clinical and professional development, said the two teachers observed multiple departments to create a list of available career opportunities at MercyOne. They also conducted a study to gather quantitative data on how nurses spend their time and helped create and update materials for staff professional development.

“It was really nice to have people there who were experts at teaching to help us find the best way to help educate our staff,” Schauer said, later adding, “They really came in ready to hit the ground running, and they tackled some of those things that we’ve been wanting to do for a very long time.”

Claire Molony will enter her first year as a science teacher at Cascade (Iowa) High School this fall. She completed an externship with Jackson County (Iowa) Conservation. She led educational and outdoor recreation programs for students and completed invasive-species removal and wildlife surveys.

“I definitely came back with a lot of knowledge about Iowa, about eastern Iowa and about native plants and native animal species in Iowa that I think will be really good to take back to my classroom and relate to the kids,” she said. “I also saw and developed a lot of communication and critical-thinking skills, and that was good for me to see so I can make sure I’m helping my kids develop those skills, too.”

Jessica Wagner, environmental education coordinator for Jackson County Conservation, said Molony was the organization’s sixth extern in the past five years.

“It’s been a huge benefit for us to have another person on staff during our busy time in the summer, as well as just connecting with those teachers in our area and building relationships,” Wagner said.