Dept. of Education opens new design challenge to students statewide – The Gazette

Gov. Kim Reynolds addresses nearly a Future Ready Iowa Summit in Des Moines in 2019, focusing on work-based learning projects going on around the state aimed at linking classrooms and career paths for Iowa students. A new design challenge announced last week for students is in keeping with a key Future Ready Iowa goal. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The Iowa Department of Education recently announced a new program that will allow students to compete for cash awards by creating innovative projects that may pique their interest in new career opportunities.

Through Build Iowa’s Future Design Challenge, winners can earn up to $1,000 for their school. Elementary and middle school students can participate in the Iowa Home Design Challenge by constructing model homes using ordinary materials like toy plastic construction bricks or wood blocks. High school students can participate in the Iowa Dream and Design Challenge by conceptualizing a design that could improve their community, like a school athletic storage facility or mobility ramp.

“The Build Iowa’s Future Design Challenge will help students see how subjects like math and science can be applied in the real world while cultivating creativity, problem-solving and other critical skills,” said Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo. “Through work-based learning opportunities, students see the connection between the classroom and the workplace where they can explore and prepare for careers that fit them.”

Available to all students across Iowa, Lebo said the department is excited to see what projects they’ll produce.

The challenge, hosted by The Iowa Clearinghouse for Work-Based Learning and the Home Builders Association of Iowa, aims to engage students in authentic professional experiences to transform education for the workforce. The challenge is in keeping with the Future Ready Iowa goal of ensuring 70 percent of the workforce has postsecondary education or training by 2025.

“It doesn’t just feel like a class, it feels like they’re doing a real project that’s going to be really implemented and used in the work force,” said Heather Doe, communications director for the Iowa Department of Education, of the potential for high school students. “It’s not just an assignment they’re turning in for a grade, it’s (like a) real work project. It changes their mindset.”

And for the state’s employers and economy, it’s important to get students engaged, interested and thinking early about opportunities in growing fields like home building.

“It’s important for the state, because it develops a talent pipeline early,” she said.

“With approximately 7.5 million construction jobs projected nationwide by 2026, and ongoing industry expansion, we want students to explore those opportunities for great-paying jobs. This project makes that introduction in a creative way,” said Jay Iverson, executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Iowa. “Our members are excited to see what students are able to come up with.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ first executive order, signed, Jan. 29, 2018, established the Iowa Clearinghouse for Work-Based Learning as a joint venture of the state Department of Education and Area Education Agencies. The clearinghouse, along with the Home Builders Association of Iowa, recently announced the Build Iowa’s Future Design Challenge, where students can compete for cash awards by creating innovative projects that may pique their interest in new career opportunities. (Rod Boshart/The Gazette)

While giving students the chance to apply skills and concepts they’ve learned in an authentic way, business partners will get to introduce aspects of the industry to a new generation of Iowans and work alongside them to contemplate the design challenges in home building. Meanwhile, teachers can find the value of connecting with business partners to make learning feel authentic, meaningful and relevant.

“When students are engaged in their learning, they can really see the connection between the classroom and what future opportunities can be,” Doe said.

Teachers are invited to submit a form letter of intent to participate on the Clearinghouse website by Sept. 29. Submission of the form letter by the deadline is required.

On May 4, 2022, three awards — $1,000 for first place, $500 for second place and $300 for third place — will be made to schools in each of the K-5, 6-8 and 9-12 grade bands for projects scored and selected by reviewers. Challenge Awards are sponsored by The Iowa Association of Community College Trustees, Kreg Tool Company and Pella Corporation.

Outstanding designs may be shared on Clearinghouse and Home Builders Association of Iowa websites and through other publications and events. Learn more about the design challenge at

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