McDermott, a clinical professor in science education, has served as the UI STEM coordinator since joining the college in 2014.
The Master of Science in STEM Education program—which McDermott helps coordinate—was started in 2016, with its first cohort of four students. This program was established in response to a critical need to increase and improve STEM education opportunities nationwide.
McDermott says this kind of opportunity for in-service teachers is particularly important because individual disciplines like math and science education are becoming integrated in how they are taught in K-12 classrooms.
Originally from Traer, Iowa, McDermott knows first-hand what it means to live and teach science in a rural setting. For his entire life, he has been passionate about teaching. He has several immediate family members, including his parents and two siblings, who have worked in the education field. For 14 years total, he taught various science courses at New Hampton High School, Roland-Story High School, and Iowa City West High School.
“Education has been really important in my family,” McDermott says. “STEM education is especially important today because of the rate at which things change in our world and helping students understand that.”
With 25 percent of his time in his current role dedicated to the UI Provost’s Office, McDermott’s expertise in STEM education branches out beyond the borders of the college. A substantial amount of his work includes working with teachers throughout Iowa through science fairs, outreach events, classroom visits, and many community partnerships.
“On the one hand, it’s good for us at the university to connect with the broader community and get the word out in terms of what we have to offer so that students and parents are aware of the different STEM opportunities that exist educationally or research-wise,” says McDermott. “There’s a lot of places in the state where kids would love to have the opportunity to get engaged and get involved in STEM camps or get involved in summer research here.”
McDermott also facilitates the development of UI programming at the Kirkwood Regional Center at the UI, serving high school students interested in learning about the multitude of applications teaching STEM has in the field of education. The overall intent of the center is to provide high school students the opportunity to explore different courses related to diverse career opportunities—many but not all in the STEM areas— and to earn college credit as they do so.
Throughout the UI, McDermott helps faculty who conduct STEM-related outreach to network with one another and promote those activities both on and off campus.
In particular, McDermott has been involved with a STEM network comprised of an estimated 100 individuals in Iowa. This includes teachers throughout the state, faculty and STEM education stakeholders from the UI colleges of education, liberal arts and sciences, and engineering, as well as the Southeast Iowa STEM Region of the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. This network also helps those at the UI to connect with community members interested in STEM education all over Iowa.
“I really enjoy working with teachers,” he says, adding that he likes to let pre-service and in-service teachers know that their work is valuable, especially to their classroom students. “It becomes critical that we’re engaging teachers in ways that are helping them hone their craft as best we can.”