Caterpillar and colleges showcase STEM simulator

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Eastern Iowa Community Colleges are teaming up with Caterpillar on a push to promote STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education.

That explains why Connor Bedell is learning how to move heavy equipment on Wednesday at the ATEEC Center in Davenport.

"That is a big head start on that," he said.

The Davenport student, 13, is among the first to get this lesson. It simulates operating a tractor. It's a real-life application for STEM education in area schools.

"They might be more into it," he continued. "They might explore a career in it."

Caterpillar and the college hope the display will enhance classroom experiences. Hundreds of youngsters will get to try it out during its three-month run in Davenport.

"We have to keep changing," said Scott Johnson, Caterpillar's worldwide product manager for medium tractor products. "We have to keep innovating. You really do need to have a skill set that's there."

Muscatine High already knows about STEM education. It offers lessons designed to create a skilled workforce. That's because the factory floor is a much different place these days.

"When they literally put their hands on something, the education and the learning just happens," said College Trustree Bill Phelan.

That hands-on experience not only demonstrates how to move earth but create careers. It's the kind of inspiration that STEM education can spark.

Davenport's Altorfer brought the real thing to Second Street on Wednesday morning. This Caterpillar tractor is a prime example of equipment that requires technical skills.

"The hardest part was making sure you didn't go over the edge," said Ian Bedell, 13.

It all makes sense to Bedell on the simulator.

"It's definitely important," he said. "This is something that you can start learning at a young age."

As the Bedell brothers prove, they're steering into the future with STEM education.