BVU alums shed light on careers in four-state STEM exploration

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

More than a dozen BVU alumni hosted and made connections with 15 freshmen participating in the university’s first Career and Research Exploration to Enhance Retention in STEM trip, a J-term adventure that opened eyes and doors in industrial work sites, labs, graduate school programs, and more across four states.

A National Science Foundation grant supplemented by the Stine Endowment funded the nearly three-week excursion led by Dr. Lisa Mellmann, associate professor of chemistry; Dr. Kristy McClellan, associate professor of biology; and Dr. John Bedward, associate professor of STEM education.

Participating students applied to gain admission into BVU’s new STEM C.A.R.E.E.R.S. program, which featured this travel opportunity as part of the course of study. To remain eligible for the program, one that offers free tuition to first-year students expressing financial need, each participant must maintain a 3.0 grade-point average while enrolled in a STEM major, or those in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics.

“All of the alums we met are in science fields,” said McClellan, who noted it is the first of two cohorts of its kind in the program. “The students were encouraged as our alumni told them how lucky they were to have a J-term experience like this, to be able to see work areas and to network, maybe allowing them to get their foot in the door for things like summer internships.”

Select sites included IBM in Rochester, Minnesota; University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City; Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota; Lurie Children’s Hospital, Chicago Museum of Science and Industry and Fermilab in Chicago; Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids; International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota; Center for Brain, Biology, Behavior (CB3) and Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha and more.

Bill ’91 and Rhonda (Harcey) ’92 Marshall organized the group’s visit to IBM in Rochester, a stop that also included meeting with IBM’s Lucas Schroder ’00.

“Even though Bill works from home for IBM, he and Rhonda set up the whole IBM experience for our students and brought in coworkers to facilitate portions of the tour as they stayed with us the entire afternoon,” said Mellmann.

Students learned, for example, that an entire room at IBM is devoted to the testing of packaging for the company as it seeks to find safer, more efficient and environmental-friendly methods to ship millions of items.

At Collins Aerospace, an associate of Mellmann’s exposed students to applications of “machine learning,” a branch of artificial intelligence, or, what Bedward called, “statistics on steroids.”

“It was incredible to see how much science is being fully automated through these industrial processes,” Bedward continued as he recalled a visit with Andy Schanbacher ’14, who facilitated a visit with his Coralville employer, Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT), where short sequences of DNA are synthesized for research purposes.

“Along the way, we kept hearing from industry professionals that ‘we’ll teach you what you need to know,’” said McClellan. “The people in these firms kept saying they need critical thinkers, people who can learn.”

A chemical engineer at Collins Aerospace shared how much her communication skills have been used as she acquires military contracts.

Other BVU alums who met students and faculty during the J-term experience included: Jem Ennen ’17, a nurse at the Mayo Clinic’s ICU facilities; Tarynne Kinghorn ’17, University of Iowa Medical School student; Derek Simonsen ’17, human toxicology Ph.D. student at University of Iowa; Caitlin Hof ’14, a doctor of neurology resident at University of Iowa Hospital; Emily Block ’16, PA student; Elizabeth Kim ’18, a medical school student at the University of Minnesota; Lutahi Tumba ’18, a lab technician at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago; Sarah Schlichte ’17, biomedical sciences Ph.D. student at University of Nebraska Medical Center; and Morganne Haer ’17, pharmacy student at Creighton University.

Students wrote reflections after each visit and culminated the STEM C.A.R.E.E.R.S. Exploration Trip with an overall assessment in either written or video form.

In less than two weeks after concluding this valuable experience, one BVU STEM freshman had already completed an application for a science internship. 

“The whole STEM program can be life-altering,” Bedward said.