Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean school is out for Central DeWitt Middle School teacher Terri Smith.

The technology and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) instructor will undergo training to encourage female students to pursue engineering as a career.

The training — and eventually, the curriculum and necessary classroom materials — will be provided by the University of Iowa College of Engineering Femineer program.

The University of Iowa in Iowa City is one of just three universities in the country to be affiliated with the program, and it’s the first one outside of California. San Diego University is another large university involved in the program.

The Femineer Program was created and funded by Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Engineering in 2013 to motivate young women to aspire to one or more of the STEM areas of study in their education and careers.

The program engages participants through highly creative, hands-on activities.

When Smith heard about the opportunity to apply to become an “adopted school” and share the University of Iowa’s Femineer Program with her students, she decided to go for it.

After all, Smith had nothing to lose if she was turned down; yet, her students would have everything to gain if her application was accepted.  

“We do need to get more females into [engineering],” she related. “It’s a very male-dominated field. We need to get more females involved and break out of that stereotype … break down those barriers. We need them to be more comfortable with the idea of it and not be thinking, ‘I can’t do that.’” 

Much to Smith’s delight and surprise, her application was accepted, and Central DeWitt Middle School has been chosen as the 2019-2020 University of Iowa College of Engineering Femineer Adopt-a-School. 

In fact, Central DeWitt was the only school in the state to be selected.

“It was awesome to find out we got accepted,” Smith said with a smile. “But when it turned out [our school] was the only one … my mind was blown.”

The program will be available to seventh- and eighth-grade students this fall during QueST time during the school day.

Participating students will be able to come to Smith’s room, and she said she will try to draw in as many students as she possibly can.

Students will work with robots and the appropriate corresponding tools, and engineering students from the University of Iowa actually will Skype with Central DeWitt students from time to time.

At the end of the program, female students who took part in the program will be treated to a tour of the University of Iowa campus and its engineering department.

“The kids will do things like create robots,” Smith explained. “They will learn to use a Hummingbird [robotics kit], and their robots will have movement and lights … They’ll use different tools and be creative with them.

“I just want to get more kids involved. One thing I really like is the kids being able to go to Iowa City and getting the tour. The classes will be very hands-on, and being able to Skype with actual engineering students to talk them through things … They can get a better idea if [engineering] is something they want to do.”

Smith also likes that the program will be built into the school day, as opposed to being an after-school program. Between jobs, sports and other commitments, students who want to participate may have other obligations that would make it impossible.

Smith said she appreciates all the support Central DeWitt administrators give her, in terms of what opportunities she is able to provide her students — including the Femineer Program.

The former art teacher at Ekstrand Elementary said the applications that students learn in her STEM classes speak to a broad range of interests. 

She endeavors to teach skills that can translate to life outside the classroom.

“In my room, we think outside the box,” Smith related. “Students are given real-world problems and have to come up with solutions. It gets everyone involved.

“Kids who may not excel in other classes can excel in here. There is a lot of asking questions, building and doing things … They can see the things we deal with in class are everyday things, and they’re all around them. And as far as how to address these things, the sky’s the limit.”