It was a love of science – and a vision for sharing it with students – that forged their partnership.
Together, they developed a plan to train UNLV students to help teach young children about scientific concepts first in the classroom and then on field trips to surrounding outdoor locations. Their idea was so well received by a community leader and philanthropist that he funded the project they envisioned.
The idea for the project emerged from conversations between Sloat and Baca, who met at a STEM networking event, where both recognized the potential for partnership in their association. Baca’s nonprofit, Get Outdoors Nevada (GON), leads a program that takes students out into nature to enhance their learning of next-generation science standards. Sloat, who teaches first-year seminars at UNLV, felt that her students could contribute to this effort in some way.
Then a grant opportunity sparked a more in-depth conversation, and the two envisioned a concrete way to act on their partnership interests.
They, along with Shelly Kopinski, GON program director, and Sue DiBella, executive director of the UNLV office of community engagement, developed a proposal for the Jameson Fellowship $25K Collective Impact Grant.
The grant tendered by community leader and philanthropist Gard Jameson offers the funding to encourage creative thinking and collaboration among nonprofit leaders to address the community’s most complex, pressing challenges.
The originally planned $25,000 grant went to another group in the community for a different important project, but Jameson and his evaluation team so valued the UNLV/GON grant application that he created a second-place prize of $5,000 to fund it.
“We were so surprised – and pleased – that Gard liked our proposal so much that he created and personally funded a second $5,000 award for us,” Sloat said.
The project enabled Sloat to create a second-year seminar service-learning course at UNLV that will train college students on how to instruct children on the science standards.
UNLV College of Sciences students enrolled in the new seminar, SCI 201, will teach the elementary school kids, both in the classroom and then on field trips to surrounding natural areas as soon as COVID-19 guidelines allow, probably sometime next year.
Until then, the funding will be used for supplies for teachers and students. It also will be used throughout the project to hire exceptional UNLV students who wish to continue their service as interns with GON.
“The elementary school students will learn science from the diverse students attending UNLV, and the UNLV students will gain valuable experience explaining science to members of the community,” said Sloat. “Also, this enables GON to expand their programming and educate more members of the community.”
Baca is similarly pleased with the partnership and the project.
“GON is thrilled to be able to partner with UNLV’s Alison Sloat and the UNLV office of community engagement to enhance our Next Generation Science Standard Program,” Baca said. “Working with our partners at UNLV, we will be able to combine STEM education for elementary students with opportunities for UNLV students to be part of this education process.”
Sloat has been teaching in the College of Sciences since 2012 and thought the second-year seminar course would be a perfect fit for preparing UNLV students for the GON partnership project.
Reaching Underserved Students
“This award enables us to reach over 4,000 (kindergarten through fifth grade) students over the next five years by increasing equitable access to the outdoors for underserved populations in the community,” Sloat said.
Likewise, Baca felt “extremely gratified” when learning GON was chosen for additional funding.
GON plans on using the money awarded as a way to continually expand the pipeline of science instructors they’ve already created in Southern Nevada. Both Baca and Sloat hope UNLV students who gain experience as the project’s science instructors could turn their internships into careers in science education.
The office of community engagement will join in to help prepare the UNLV students to reach out to the elementary students, DiBella said.
“From the moment we heard of this idea, we knew it would be a wonderful partnership,” she said. “We are so delighted UNLV is involved in this collaboration with Get Outdoors Nevada and so grateful to Gard Jameson. The project truly represents the power of collective impact.”
Sloat and Baca currently are working on ways to manage the project during the COVID-19 crisis. Given that safety is vital during this time, they are exploring virtual learning methods, and they hope to be able to offer field trips sometime next spring.
They also hope the “cross-pollination” between UNLV and elementary school students will be beneficial to both.
Sloat notes that engaging early with kids about science and its importance creates a huge difference in learning perspective and growth, especially in economically disadvantaged populations in the community.
“It’s my hope that all students gain an appreciation for the environment, science, and our local community as a result of participating in this program,” Sloat said. “I want them to see that science is everywhere. Everyone can do science, and the outdoors is for everyone.”