$1.26 million NIH grant expands Purdue College of Veterinary Medicine after-school science program nationwide

June 10, 2015  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Many people do not realize the vital role that veterinarians play in keeping people healthy, and that lack of awareness is especially true among elementary school students. The goal of a $1.26 million Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs, a component of the National Institutes of Health, is to change that.

The only veterinary medical college with a SEPA award, Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine will lead a team of experts that will spread this message nationwide through an after-school role-modeling program. Called "This is How We 'Role,' " the program 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 in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

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

A partnership with Purdue's College of Liberal Arts will help deliver the program in English and Spanish, and assessment experts at Purdue's Discovery Learning Research Center in Discovery Park will provide a rigorous assessment of the program's impact. The program will focus on students who are educationally disadvantaged due to socioeconomic status, race, or ethnicity with the long-term goal of diversifying the veterinarian-scientist 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," said San Miguel. "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."

For the past six years San Miguel and many 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," San Miguel said.

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

"We wanted to deliver the programs in Spanish as well, but didn't have the expertise," San Miguel said. "When I met Dr. Alejandro Cuza-Blanco, associate professor of Spanish linguistics in the School of Languages and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts, I learned he had a wonderful after-school Spanish program at a local elementary school and was looking for a science partner. It was a perfect match! Thanks to NIH SEPA, we now have the opportunity for our programs to have a national impact."

Cuza-Blanco has led the Spanish program, called Aprendiendo a Leer, "Learning to Read," at Wea Ridge Elementary School for about four years.

"Because elementary schools do not usually offer a second language, we have an opportunity to develop and implement a new curriculum based on content instruction, specifically as it relates to the teaching of veterinary medicine in Spanish as a heritage and second language," said Cuza, who specializes in language acquisition and bilingualism. "This also is an incredible opportunity to reach these young students and their families to encourage interest in higher education and studying the sciences and Spanish at Purdue. As part of this project, Purdue students also will learn about curriculum development and gain hands-on experience in the teaching of Spanish at the elementary level."

The new SEPA program will begin with the development of veterinary lessons in English and Spanish that meet Next Generation Science Standards. According to San Miguel, within five years, they hope to have "This is How We 'Role'" programs at all 30 colleges of veterinary medicine in the United States.

Writer: Kevin Doerr, 765-494-8216, doerrkr@purdue.edu

Source: Sandra San Miguel, 765-494-8052, amass@purdue.edu

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