NIH grant expands after-school science program nationwide

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Changing the lack of awareness of veterinarians' role in keeping people healthy is one goal of a $1.26 million award to Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine. Announced June 10, the money comes from a Science Education Partnership Award from the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs, a component of the National Institutes of Health. Those involved also hope that the program can cultivate future veterinarians from diverse backgrounds.

With the grant, a team of experts will spread the message of veterinarians’ role in human health nationwide through an after-school role-modeling program. Called “This is How We ‘Role,’” it will provide interactive science and math experiences to students in kindergarten through fourth grade, according to Dr. Sandy San Miguel, the principal investigator and associate dean for engagement at the veterinary college.

Students will learn how veterinarian-scientists develop methods that will ultimately help prevent or treat human health conditions as they help cows with diabetes, dogs with cancer, and horses with asthma. Veterinary and veterinary technology students along with veterinarians will receive training to deliver the program in a culturally responsive manner. It is being developed through a collaboration among veterinarians and elementary school teachers in consultation with experts at Purdue and the Kingston Bay Group, an educational consulting agency.

Veterinary students deliver lessons to children
Veterinary students such as this one at Purdue University deliver lessons about veterinary medicine to children through an after-school program at the Hanna Community Center in Lafayette, Indiana. (Courtesy of Dr. Sandy San Miguel)

The program will focus on students who are educationally disadvantaged because of socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity, with the long-term goal of diversifying the veterinary workforce.

“These children have already developed creative problem-solving skills and have experience overcoming unexpected challenges, and both of those qualities are essential for good scientists,” Dr. San Miguel said. “They are the future veterinarian-scientists who are going to find cures for cancer and change our world, so we need to instill a passion in them for this work early on in their education.”

The new program will begin with the development of veterinary lessons in English and Spanish with help from Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts. Experts at Purdue’s Discovery Learning Research Center will provide an assessment of the program’s impact. According to Dr. San Miguel, within five years, the hope is to have “This is How We ‘Role’” programs at all 30 U.S. veterinary colleges.

For the past six years, Dr. San Miguel and members of the current team partnered on another NIH SEPA project called “Fat Dogs and Coughing Horses: animal contributions to a healthier citizenry.” That partnership with K-12 teachers and other Purdue experts led to the development of formal curricula for elementary, middle, and high school students, as well as books and traveling exhibits.

“We found that the program had the greatest impact on the elementary school students’ attitudes toward school, science, and career aspirations, so we decided to focus on them outside of the classroom,” Dr. San Miguel said.

The veterinary college started delivering some of the veterinary lessons to children through the after-school program at the Hanna Community Center in Lafayette, Indiana.