When high school grad­­­uates choose a college major this summer, they may decide to pursue traditional health or computer science degrees, which are well-known career paths.

However, students who earn de­­grees in science and technology can also take their pick from a variety of emerging job opportunities, particularly in agriculture, if they plan to stay in Iowa.

Iowa high school teachers and counselors learned about the wide range of careers hiring graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) at a series of conferences across the state earlier this year.

Today, more than 7,000 jobs in Iowa go unfilled because employers can’t find the skilled labor force, noted Linda Lowry, recruitment coordinator of the University of Northern Iowa's (UNI) Department of Technology.

“So those engineering and science jobs are going outside the state of Iowa,” Lowry told the teachers and counselors at the STEM conference at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids. “That is why the governor and the state of Iowa are really ramping up these STEM initiatives.”

The STEM career conferences, organized by UNI and sponsored by Iowa Farm Bureau, brought dozens of teachers and guidance counselors to local community colleges that focus on STEM career training.

The conferences invited these key influencers to learn about the many STEM jobs that are in demand when they are helping Iowa students choose a career path.

“If you talk to the teachers who are here (at the conference), there are a number of teachers who are doing great things in regards to STEM education. But a number of teachers and guidance counselors are from schools where they are just getting started and would really like to get some ideas and suggestions on what they can do,” said Larry Escalada, chair of science education at UNI, during the recent STEM conference at Kirkwood.

A grant from the Iowa Farm Bureau helped provide reimbursement for substitute-teacher pay so full-time teachers could attend the STEM career conferences.

Beth Thompson, UNI’s STEM outreach coordinator, said the conferences were hosted at community colleges to introduce teachers and counselors to the different STEM career programs offered at two- and four-year colleges.

About 80 percent of the career programs at Kirkwood Community College are tied to STEM education, said Mick Starcevich, Kirkwood’s president.

Many Kirkwood students also transfer to nearby University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa or Iowa State University to continue their studies in health sciences, engineering or agriculture, Starcevich noted.

In addition, Kirkwood is constructing a new STEM center on the University of Iowa campus. It’s the first-ever community college center to open on a state-owned campus in the nation, showing both colleges’ commitment to STEM education, Starcevich said.

At the STEM career conferences, a panel of local business professionals told the educators about different STEM job opportunities and what qualities they look for in future employees. The business panel included leaders who work in ag-related careers, such as engineering and renewable energy.

Steve Meeker, a biology teacher from Linn-Mar High School in Marion, said the school offers a strong ag sciences program for students who want to pursue STEM careers in agriculture.

Linn-Mar High School teaches the CASE (Curriculum in Agriculture Science Education) program, a hands-on STEM lesson plan offered through the Iowa FFA Foundation.

“I think there are avenues for some of our students to realize that (agriculture) is a great industry to get into, because people have to eat,” Meeker said. “Global populations are growing, and (ag) is going to be a secure field to go into.”

For more information about Iowa’s STEM initiative, including ongoing regional STEM hub activities, visit www.iowastem.org