Andy Kavanaugh said he always felt confident that what he was teaching his students was going to translate to the real world.
After spending six weeks in an externship program, he said he realized he had a lot more he could be offering his students.
Kavanaugh, an industrial technology teacher at Fort Dodge Senior High School, spent six weeks this summer working at POET Bioprocessing near Gowrie. The externship was part of the Iowa STEM Teacher Externship program through the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.
“I feel like now I have an understanding of what that industry looks like and what things I can take back into my classroom,” said Kavanaugh. “I would recommend that any teacher that is looking to grow, they should find a place to do something like this. Teachers can see if there’s something that’s a good fit for their classroom. I realized there are some things I could be doing differently because that’s what these businesses want.”
Kavanaugh said he spent a good amount of time just observing, but he really got a lot out of that. The main reason he couldn’t be more hands on, he said, is because he lacked the safety training for a lot of POET machinery. He said that’s something he realized would be beneficial in his classroom.
“They have standard operating procedures (SOP) and job hazard analysis, which I had never heard of,” Kavanaugh said. “Those were the two biggest things I took away from this. I thought about how I can incorporate those into my classroom. Everything’s so safety oriented there. Those were things I decided I could do in my class.”
Kavanaugh said because of the externship, he’s putting an emphasis on safety in his classrooms. He teaches metals and welding classes so the students are using a lot of machinery and tools.
“Sometimes you look at something pretty simple, like wearing safety glasses and kids will scoff at that,” said Kavanaugh. “I feel like I’ve tried to tell the kids that’s how so many accidents happen. I was wearing safety glasses, steel toe boots and a hard hat and I still almost ran into things.”
Kavanaugh said he also heard a lot from people at POET that potential employees are lacking soft skills, something he also is trying harder to incorporate into his classes.
“A lot of places are telling people we can train you for any job,” said Kavanaugh. “They are looking for people who will show up every day and have a good attitude.
“There are a lot of good jobs available for people who want them,” Kavanaugh said. “The businesses will teach whatever skills someone is lacking. They just need people to show up every day.”
Kavanaugh said he’s also hopeful he can continue a working relationship with the businesses where he’s done externships. He also did an externship with Central Iowa Building Supply and C&S Products Co. Inc. Both of those were week-long placements.
“It’s cool to see how we can help fill some of those jobs and they are more than willing to help us if we need certain things,” he said. “I enjoyed my time there. It’s interesting to see how the industry is changing. There are some good paying jobs out there. Some are available right out of high school if that’s what a student wants to do.”
The Externship Program through the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council has been in place since 2009. Nearly 300 businesses across the state have participated in the program according to the Advisory Council website. There were 77 businesses that participated this year.
STEM Teacher Externs are expected to work for 200 to 240 hours for the extern host, typically starting in June and ending in July for five to six full-time weeks. STEM Teacher Extern hosts are often flexible in adjusting work schedules to meet the needs of their STEM teacher externs.
More information can be found at https://iowastem.org.