STEM Innovator ®


"STEM Innovator® is the best professional development decision I have made.  Our school wanted to create a unique learning model tailored to our community assets.  Our team designed, piloted and pivoted our learning model – within a year!  We continue to evolve as we get feedback from our students and community partners, and as we network and learn from other schools engaged in STEM Innovator®. It is important to me, and also to our administrators and community partners, that STEM Innovator® is research-driven.  I want to know the work students are engaged in is helping them become future ready."

-Rick Reinking 

Director of Strategic Partnerships/ K-12 STEAM

USPTO NSTI Teacher Ambassador

Spirit Lake, IA Community School District

Program Type

Curriculum/Instructional Materials
Teacher Development/Training
Hands on/Project-Based
Work Readiness/Employment
College Readiness

Target Audience

All Students


Black/African American


Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

American Indian/Alaskan Native

English Language Learner

Low Socio-Economic Status

Teachers/Educational Leaders




Grades 6 - 8
Grades 9 - 12

 Accomplished link

Program Impact

STEM Innovator® educators have provided over 62,782 secondary students with the opportunity to engage in the innovation, invention and entrepreneurship process by leveraging partnerships with local and national mentors. A large, multi-year longitudinal research study indicates significant growth in 21st Century Skills (Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication), Innovation and Entrepreneurial Skills and Mindsets (Resilience, Adaptability, Leadership, Teamwork, Grit, Decision Making), and NGSS Science and Engineering Practices. Significant growth persists when data is disaggregated by gender, racial classification, and school demographics. The STEM Innovator® platform assists in closing the achievement gap traditionally found in STEM education. The result is a more diverse pool of students who demonstrate and self-identify as having college and career competencies necessary to persist in STEM education and career fields.


Program Overview

STEM Innovator® professional development empowers educators to design a unique innovation model for their school and district. Educators transform classrooms into incubator spaces where student teams solve real-world problems alongside industry mentors. Students demonstrate future-ready competencies through prototype development while employing the practices of science, engineering, innovation and entrepreneurship. The process prepares students with the skills and mindset to persist in STEM education, pursue STEM careers, and become innovators of the future.

Teachers emerge from STEM Innovator® with the capacity to implement the same tools, knowledge, and management strategies used in STEM industry, start-up, college, and university settings. These include Lean Start-up, Design Thinking, Agile, Canvasing, SCRUM, STEM practices, Maker, rapid prototyping, data-driven decision making and collaborative teaming. These innovation strategies provide students opportunities to experience and demonstrate adaptability, failing, resilience, effective communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and creativity- all skills critical for careers of the future, and become the innovators of the future.

Educators join an innovative network of professionals who share strategies across schools and leverage local, state and national business and industry partners. During the online and face-to-face professional development educators earn up to 5 graduate credits and qualify for a $975 stipend. Upon completion of STEM Innovator® certification, educators may offer college credit to high school students who submit a STEM Innovator® Portfolio demonstrating industry and college STEM innovation competencies.

How To Get Involved

Educators complete an interest form:

Funders and Partners

•    United States Patent & Trademark Office

•    STEMconnector

•    STEMIE Coalition

•    The Henry Ford

•    Lemelson Foundation 

•    The DLR Group 

•    Unity Point Healthcare

•    State of Iowa Economic Development Funds

•    Iowa Governor's STEM Council

•    Iowa Bio


Dr. Leslie Flynn, Clinical Asst. Professor of STEM Innovation, The University of Iowa 


Design Principles

The programs in this database clear a high bar. STEMworks reviewed each program against the Design Principles for Effective STEM Philanthropy.

  • Accomplished
  • Developing
  • Undeveloped

Overarching Principles

  • Need

    Identify and target a compelling and well-defined need.

  • Evaluation

    Use rigorous evaluation to continuously measure and inform progress towards the compelling need identified.

  • Sustainability

    Ensure work is sustainable.

  • Replication and Scalability

    Demonstrate replicability and scalability.

  • Partnerships

    Create high impact partnerships

  • Capacity

    Ensure organizational capacity to achieve goals.

STEM Principles

  • Challenging and Relevant Content

    Offer challenging and relevant STEM content for the target audience

  • STEM Practices

    Incorporate and encourage STEM practices.

  • Inspiration

    Inspire interest and engagement in STEM.

  • Under-Represented Groups

    Identify and address the needs of under-represented groups.