Sunday, September 18, 2011

I am delighted to welcome you to the University of Iowa! The promise and passion of eager young students always thrills me. We are honored that you chose to spend your day with us, and we have a lot of fun and enlightening activities set up for you. Science, technology, engineering, math—they all are full of wonders and surprises. Maybe a moment of wonder and surprise today will spark a lifelong interest for you.

I myself am a scientist, so I know firsthand the excitement of discovery—and learning—especially for young people like you. Although my immigrant parents’ educational attainment was limited, they passed their strong beliefs in learning on to their children. As Gina noted earlier, I was the only child in my family to go to college, but my parents supported me wholeheartedly, even when it was financially difficult. As I grew up, my educational and professional dream was to be a scientist. That had been my dream since watching the Sputnik satellite program unfold on TV as a young girl. What set me on my career path was a fantastic opportunity when I was a freshman at the University of Kentucky. A young biology professor—who, by the way, is an alum of the University of Iowa—invited me into his laboratory. This mentor showed me what research in the biological sciences was all about. We ultimately published a paper together, and he even helped me gain some teaching experience as a freshman lab instructor during my junior and senior years. The experience, though, was more than a simple career-launcher. It sparked my passion for research, for education, and for the world of the university.

One of the most important things for you to do now and always—and what will put you on the path to success—is to pursue your passion. And if that passion is in one of the STEM areas, the opportunities before you are tremendous. STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent by the year 2018. And we want to help prepare you to take advantage of those opportunities.

We are all very excited about plans to build an innovative new regional education center right here on the UI Research Park campus—a partnership between the University of Iowa, Kirkwood Community College, and the Iowa City Community School District. This multi-use facility will provide all kinds of new opportunities for learning for many different age ranges. Continuing education programs, Career Academy courses, and college-level courses for high school students will open up new possibilities for young people throughout the area, including even more programs in STEM areas than we’re able to offer now through our schools.

This center will greatly enhance the kind of STEM work we’re already doing. Just last week, we were delighted to host a new virtual reality student group from Iowa City’s City High at the College of Education’s new Teacher Leader Center. They came to campus to take part in the Virtual Reality Education Pathfinder program. This exciting new initiative allows students to use 3D and virtual reality technology to develop projects on everything from exploring human anatomy to rendering an architectural design. At the VREP training session, the City High students learned how to use a software program called Blender freeware. They created objects such as cubes and spheres, which were then turned into gingerbread men that they will later animate to be seen in the UI’s virtual reality center at UI. One of the students participating said that this kind of learning could give her an edge in finding a computer-related job later. And of course she also said, “And it's really cool. Who wouldn't want to be able to create stuff like this?”

We want programs and initiatives like the new regional education center, the Virtual Reality Education Pathfinder program, and today’s iExploreSTEM Festival to set students like you on a strong career path. We want you to be competitive in emerging areas, and we want to help guide you in making important contributions to society. But our immediate job, as I suggested before, is to spark your passion, which must be the fuel for learning and ultimately a career. Like the City High student, today we want you to have fun, to do some stuff that’s really cool, and to indulge your intellectual creativity. And we hope that this will spark something inside you that will inspire you to go after your dream, to pursue your studies with passion, and to change the world with your knowledge and talents.

Thank you again for joining us today, and I offer you my best wishes for an exciting day and for the greatest success in your future.