Institute Community Outreach and Education manager receives grant to expand STEM education offerings

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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Kelly Vincelette, Community Outreach and Education (COE) Manager at The Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, is the recipient of a $25,000 FutureForward Impact grant from Southeast Service Cooperative. 

The grant will allow for expansion of the department’s Young Scientist Program for middle school students as well as add a teacher externship program and a lending library that will allow teachers to use lab equipment not commonly available in schools so they can incorporate current, real-world research applications into STEM education for the benefit of students across the state of Minnesota. 

With this funding, the COE department aims to: 

  • Continue and grow relationships with students and educators/school districts ● Give opportunities for both students and educators to be mentored in biomedical research careers and offer specific, tailored mentorship opportunities 
  • Showcase local jobs available to students that they might not know would be a viable option where they live 
  • Offer hands-on STEM learning opportunities for students and educators from the Institute’s state-of-the-art biomedical research facility 

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“We feel it is vital to show students career options that are maybe not considered as something they can do in their local area, here in Southeastern Minnesota,” Vincelette said.” We also believe it’s crucial not only to connect students but also educators with STEM resources and career prospects in biomedical research. With some of our already-established funding and this new grant funding with FutureForward, we will be able to further our reach to more school districts throughout Minnesota.” 

The Institute’s Young Scientist Program has been offered to Austin Middle School students in grades 6-8. Students make monthly visits to the Institute, where they receive mentorship from world-class scientists and engage in hands-on educational STEM experiences—like isolating RNA from lung cells, gamifying a mobile health app, and looking for breast cancer risk marker in cells under the microscope — to ignite their curiosity. 

Thanks to the FutureForward grant, the department will now also be able to offer a hybrid program option to 1-2 more school districts to reduce travel barriers. The program’s hybrid version will consist of 4 in-person sessions at the Institute and 2-4 virtual sessions in which students will work on experiments from their classrooms with provided materials and observe other experiments and activities virtually.

The teacher externship program, that launches this summer, will be open to educators across the state of Minnesota, will offer research experiences, networking opportunities with researchers, and guidance on curriculum development to include current, real-world applications of science and research in their classrooms. A hybrid option will be available for this program as well, and participating educators will receive stipends to support their training. 

The Institute’s new Lending Library will be used to support curriculum development for educators participating in the teacher externship program. Educators will be able to borrow equipment, materials, and other resources that can be checked out from the library for a period of time.