Ashley Meyn (right) shares her knowledge with a Hoyt Middle School student in Des Moines. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Iowa State provides 21st century skills through family and consumer sciences

As the U.S. marks National Family and Consumer Sciences Educator Day today, Iowa State University is equipping educators to provide today’s students with 21st century skills.

“In Iowa today, family and consumer sciences does not focus on what I term ‘life literacy’ pieces first, but on the career pathways within the programs that are part of high demand career areas in our state. The added value is that students can apply the content and skills to their personal lives,” said Lisa Stange, former Iowa State FCEDS coordinator and lecturer who now serves as a career and technical education program consultant for the Iowa Department of Education and FCS specialist.

Redesigning career education

In May 2016, Gov. Branstad signed into law House File 2392, setting a new vision to help provide students access to high-quality career and technical programs. Districts are required to offer and teach subjects designed as career and technical education programs. Program areas include human services, health sciences, technology and applied sciences, food and natural resources, and finance — all topics at the heart of Iowa State’s family and consumer sciences education and studies program. The legislation builds upon recommendations released by the Secondary Career and Technical Education (CTE) Task Force and marks the first major revision to CTE policy in Iowa since 1989.

A degree in FCEDS from Iowa State includes seven content areas: consumer resource management, family studies, food and nutrition, housing, human development, parenthood education, and textiles and clothing.

Christian Carper, a December 2012 graduate in family and consumer sciences education and studies who now teaches in the West Delaware County Community School District, likes to tell his students that he’s a teacher of “life hacks.”

“What I love most about FCS is that it is life skills,” he said. “Being able to teach students something that I know for certain they will use later on in life is very exciting.”

Troy Anderson, a lecturer in human development and family studies and coordinator for Iowa State’s family and consumer sciences education and studies program, said that Iowa State’s degree offering is unique to the state.

“The family and consumer sciences education and studies program here at Iowa State University is a dynamic and superb one, in that it is the only program of its kind serving the state of Iowa,” he said. “Through one-on-one instruction, Iowa State’s FCEDS students get a wide depth of knowledge. Our courses are specific to degree opportunities, and are consistent with students’ real-world practicum and professional association experiences.”

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Iowa State's FCEDS students traveled to Brown's Town Primary School in Brown's Town, Jamaica, in April.

A recent experience included a visit to Jamaica for the Caribbean Association of Home Economists biennial conference, and another opened doors to study in Norway.

“The experiences offered to students enrolled in our programs extends beyond the local, state, and national levels, to an international level arena,” Anderson said. “We provide students with opportunities to immerse themselves in cultures and educational settings that are not only diverse, but also vibrant. Our students compare various school systems and impact and empower communities by sharing teaching strategies for family and consumer sciences education.”

A wider scale

Anderson said the skills Iowa State students now put into practice are on a much grander scale than those from generations past.

“Our students are experiencing things on a wider scale than ever before,” he said. “They focus on mass production — whether in apparel design or food preparation. They aren’t just learning to sew a button; they’re creating full fashion prototypes. At Iowa State, we have the equipment and resources students need to explore their disciplines in new ways.”

Ashley Meyn, a senior in family and consumer sciences education and studies, is taking what she’s learned and applying it to secondary classrooms. She’ll soon complete her student teaching at Hoyt Middle School in Des Moines.

“The first couple of years at ISU, I learned that FCS is so much more than ‘home skills,’” Meyn said. “The phenomenon of career and technical education boasted that we could not only prepare students to be successful at home and with families, but also for careers. We get to teach skills that students will use throughout life in a hands-on way.”

At Ottumwa High School, Heather Crandall, a May 2016 graduate in family and consumer sciences, gives her students hands-on foodservice experiences. She brings skills once taught for the home-based kitchen to a full-service food production environment.

“My culinary entrepreneurial opportunities class entails a student-run restaurant/café,” she said. “This is a lot on top of teaching other courses for a first-year teacher, but taking culinary courses at ISU along with my teaching strategies courses helped me to control the chaos and have a very successful restaurant that serves the school and community every Friday. Iowa State’s campus, instructors, and the opportunities I received are just a few of the many reasons that choosing ISU was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Preparing the teachers of tomorrow and today

Iowa State’s robust program prepares students from a variety of backgrounds, further contributing to Iowa’s FCS educator pipeline. Some students, like Amber Medici who teaches at Ankeny’s Prairie Ridge Middle School, pursue the program while actively teaching to fulfill state licensure requirements.

Medici has a degree in community health education and a license to teach health. Three years ago, she was offered an opportunity to teach family and consumer sciences on a conditional license while pursuing the additional teaching endorsement.

“Although I am not a traditional student at this point, Iowa State’s FCS department has been more than willing to help answer questions, double- and triple-check my transcripts and class audit, help me with my two-year timeline, and assist me in meeting all the requirements the state requires for the teaching license in this field,” she said. “Iowa State has been a valuable source and support system in my continuation of my education.”

During her course of study, Medici has worked closely with academic adviser Michale Hansen. Hansen said that creating opportunities for educators to pursue further study in the field of family and consumer sciences is empowering.

“The FCS program at Iowa State University extends its programming to work with current educators who are seeking an endorsement in FCS,” she said. “Working with individuals like Amber creates a natural partnership in addressing the FCS educator shortage, while also enabling our FCS professionals across the state to teach essential skills that empower our youth today.”

Thanks to non-traditional instruction opportunities, Medici is on track to complete her program in August. She’ll start her final two classes May 15.

“A schedule that provides summer and online courses was the only reason I was able to make this career happen,” she said. “I am extremely grateful for the opportunities Iowa State provided for course completion; without them, I would not be able to fulfill a lifelong dream to teach.”