Twelve elementary and intermediate school students pulled on a child-size lab coat to start their day as the inaugural crop of scientists-in-training at N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the N.C. Research Campus, in Kannapolis. On Tuesday, November 17, a select group of aspiring young scientists arrived on campus to experience PHHI’s latest community outreach effort, “Scientist for a Day.” Doug Vernon, greenhouse operations and outreach specialist at the Institute, coordinated the activities of the day to engage the students and encourage their interest in science.
The fourth and sixth grade students—two from each elementary and intermediate school in the Kannapolis City School (KCS) system—were selected by their teachers for displaying a marked enthusiasm for science. Upon arrival at the Research Campus, the students moved through five learning modules, meeting research scientists and participating in age-appropriate, hands-on activities. Before returning to their respective schools, they enjoyed lunch on campus at the Lettuce Eat Café. Vernon plans to offer Scientist for a Day three times during the school year and hopes to grow the program to include the middle and high schools.
Vernon has worked with Jacki Lane, STEM teacher at Jackson Park Elementary, to facilitate the partnership with KCS. Lane says, “The Scientist for a Day program will expose our students with a passion for STEM to the exciting job opportunities their community has to offer. Our hope for this program is to inspire students to pursue their love of learning in STEM and maybe even become the next great scientist or engineer, right here in Kannapolis!”
Vernon joined the PHHI staff in this new role in late summer and immediately began reaching out to the KCS schools to partner with them, specifically on school gardens. Much of PHHI’s research focuses of fruits, vegetables and herbs, making the school garden an ideal, participatory setting to introduce the health benefits of these foods. Vernon says, “The idea for Scientist for a Day came to me as a way to offer a high impact experience as opposed to a generic, large group tour. I also see it as a great opportunity to begin building stronger connections between the campus and the community.”
Retired from the Cabarrus County School System, Vernon previously worked as a high school agriculture teacher. “Doug has a passion for teaching and creating learning experiences,” says Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute. “His role at the Institute will help shed light on our research efforts at the community level and hopefully excite students about the science of human health and role of food in preventing and treating disease.”
“Scientist for a Day” Participants, Nov. 17, 2015
- Forest Park Elementary – Chalmers Bankhead, Keaton Wyatt
- Jackson Park Elementary – Tymel Crosland, Hunter Moore
- Woodrow Wilson Elementary – Shyla Campbell, Ruby Hernandez-Herrera
- Fred L. Wilson Elementary – Bryan Ellis, Emma Wingler
- Shady Brook Elementary – Donnovan Smith, Marilyn MosQueda
- Kannapolis Intermediate School – Nadia DaCosta, Tyler Becker