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Hormel Institutes hopes to inspire students through STEM-based educational event

On June 28, students from More Than Pink and Boys of Tomorrow came to the Hormel Institute to learn about different STEM fields.

Liquid nitrogen at hormel
A group of students gathers to watch a liquid nitrogen experiment led by Todd Schuster at The Hormel Institute in Austin, Minn., on Tuesday, June 28, 2022.
Bella Carpentier / Post Bulletin
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AUSTIN — A group of Austin students got to experience the "Wow factor" of science Tuesday.

The Hormel Institute hosted elementary and middle school students from two summer programs on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, with the goal of inspiring the next generation to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related career paths.

Students from the community groups, Boys of Tomorrow (BOT) and More Than Pink (MTP), came to the institute where they toured the building and saw a state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscope, met with scientists through panel discussions and rotated through different stations that encompass different STEM-related experiments: a strawberry DNA extraction lab, liquid nitrogen experiments, and microscopes and 3-D goggle stations.

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Augustine Stange, a fourth-grade student visiting the institute with More Than Pink, said she is either interested in becoming an actress or a scientist in the future.

“My favorite part was probably either extracting DNA from strawberries or we got to watch 3-D things,” Stange said.

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As for the other students, it seemed like both the strawberry experiment and the microscope station were widely popular with comments like, “I liked the strawberry thing,” and, “I didn’t know they made microscopes that big.”

Another MTP student is soon-to-be fourth-grader Evelyn Stundahl.

“I think it was interesting that there are so many tiny organisms living everywhere,” Stundahl said while waiting in line for the microscope station. “A lot of us didn’t know (that) before.”

There are 15 interns at the lab that usually work with the institute’s scientists, but instead spent the day helping younger students at the event. These interns are typically college juniors or seniors, according to Raquel Hellman, the marketing and communications manager for The Hormel Institute.

After graduating from Riverland Community College, intern Siri Ansorge applied and was selected to spend the summer working on the stem cells and skin cancer research lab before going on to study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“Me and a few interns did the strawberry DNA extraction,” Ansorge said. “It’s so easy, you can do it with household chemicals.”

Kelly Vinvelette, the community outreach and education manager at the institute, said she hopes the younger students will see the interns helping out with the experiments and show the students that interning with The Hormel Institute could be a possibility for them in the future.

Ansorge said she has already learned so much at The Hormel Institute that will be valuable for a career in health care, and it seemed to her like the younger students visiting the institute were really enjoying the strawberry DNA extraction and the microscope station.

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“I really hope this program inspires young boys and girls to get interested in STEM,” Ansorge said. “It’s important to always be curious and to keep learning.”

Two different panels – the “Women in Science” and the “Men in Science” – convened at the beginning and end of the event.

Of the 19 students from BOT that sat through the “Men in Science” panel, five raised their hands when asked, “Who wants to be a scientist?”

BOT at Hormel
Boys of Tomorrow stand for picture with four panelists from The Hormel Institute in Austin, Minn., after learning more about different STEM fields at an event held on June 28, 2022.
Contributed / Hormel Institute

“Everyone can be a scientist,” Vivek Verma, one of the panelists and a cancer immunotherapy specialist at the institute, said. “What do you need to be a scientist? You need to ask questions.”

Though the questions that students asked were not entirely related to the panelists’ work at the institute – with students wondering “Are you guys like the big four?” and “Why are ants so small?” – one student asked if the four panelists ever worked together despite their different specialties.

“Each person has their own expertise,” Verma said. “We all come together to solve a problem.”

The Hormel Institute’s program for BOT and MTP was organized after the institute was contacted by the BOT director to see if they could show the boys around the institute, according to Vinvelette. From there, the institute wanted to include girls from MTP, so they started having conversations around how to meet the needs of each group.

According to Vinvelette, seventh-graders from Albert Lea Public Schools had previously visited the institute so the institute was able to modify the experiences given to the visiting seventh-graders to fit the younger group of students.

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“They are here for experiences, for learning more about STEM and to inspire them on STEM-related careers,” Vinvelette said. “It’s fun just to see how (these) kids get so excited.”

From visiting the $4.3 million cryo-electron microscope to “learning about the different types of cancer and how to prevent them,” as said by fifth-grader Kaitlyn Pell, students from both groups said the experience at The Hormel Institute made them more interested in science.

According to Vinvelette, that was the goal of the event and the institute wanted to “get at least one youth inspired to get into or learn more about STEM.”

“If we get just that one that is inspired, that is a success,” Vinvelette said.

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Bella Carpentier is a journalism and political science student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (UMN-TC). She is currently the managing editor of the student-run paper at UMN-TC, the Minnesota Daily. While reporting for the Minnesota Daily, she covered student activism and issues affecting the university's student body. Working for the Post Bulletin, Bella hopes to build community connections and advance her reporting skills. Readers can reach Bella at bcarpentier@postbulletin.com.
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