FRANKFORT — Kentucky State University (KSU) will establish a strong agriculture-STEM education and outreach model to collaborate and build a pipeline with K-12 school students across the state thanks to a capacity building grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA).
The grant, totaling $147,469 over three years, allows KSU to address low STEM proficiency—which covers the educational discipline areas for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—as well as enrollment of Kentucky graduates of the University.
With this grant, KSU will provide participating high school students with short lectures and hands-on demonstrations in and out of their classrooms that enable these young people to study multiple levels of complexity and to deepen their understanding of these STEM fields, including agriculture and aquaculture, in particular.
“We want students to be actively engaged in ‘learning by doing’ and ‘seeing’ and to be involved in authentic project-based aquaculture tasks that help increase their understanding in STEM disciplines,” says Ken Thompson, research and extension associate at KSU’s College of Agriculture, Food Science, and Sustainable Systems.
So far, KSU is committed to working with seven high schools: Western Hills High School (Frankfort), Boyd County High School (Ashland), Trinity High School (Louisville), Mason County High School (Maysville), Clay County High School (Manchester), Harrison County High School (Cynthiana), and Carroll County High School (Carrollton). This list may expand as a result of a growing list of schools that have asked to participate.
In addition to programming at each high school, KSU will collaborate with Alltech and the Newport Aquarium’s WAVE Foundation to host a multidisciplinary Open House Ag-STEM Day event at Kentucky State’s Aquaculture Research Center in Frankfort. Students in the program will be given the opportunity to see and touch animals, including penguins and sharks, to encourage students to naturally begin the scientific method through exploration, observation, and generating questions.
This partnership with Alltech and the WAVE Foundation will also serve to provide students with a firsthand knowledge of the broader educational and career opportunities in agricultural sciences. It also will help to increase the interest, academic success, and enrollment of diverse high school student populations in the STEM circuit to strengthen the country’s scientific and professional workforce.
Another hands-on opportunity can be found on board KSU’s Kentucky River Thorobred, a 52-foot boat with a floating laboratory for teaching students about history, natural resources, environmental stewardship, science concepts, and river ecology. The grant also will provide aquaculture workshops for teachers to help them effectively incorporate aquaculture education in their classrooms.
“Programs like these are important because they teach students how science and technology mesh in aquatic systems,” Thompson says. “Our job is to give students the opportunity to make connections to their real-world experiences throughout the learning process. They will be exposed to phenomena that they may not have ever encountered before and will be presented with ways to engage in understanding.”
School administrators who are interested in participating in this program are encouraged to contact Ken Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 597-8107.