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Aracely Miron-Ocampowon won the high school division at the annual Des Moines University Research Symposium, presenting on the benefits of a program like NeuroSMART.

Central Campus offers students the opportunity to prepare for their future in a number of different fields of study, from high-skilled trades to high-level science. One new example is the Neuroscience Student Mentoring And Research Training (NeuroSMART), a partnership that offers a novel training module for high school students in the combined fields of neuroscience and business. The program brings together Des Moines Public Schools and Central Campus with a major health sciences university (Des Moines University) and a key regional business (Kemin Industries).

The program was recently honored by the Iowa Governor’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Advisory Council as one of 13 STEM BEST Programs in Iowa. The STEM BEST Program fosters a learning environment where students are able to participate in real workplace projects designed by business professionals and teachers, and apply K-12 science, technology, engineering and mathematics to skills, knowledge and behaviors needed for STEM careers.

 “The STEM BEST Program brings together schools, businesses and the local community to offer students the opportunity to experience business and industry environments,” said Carrie Rankin, Managing Director of the STEM Council. “These experiences are designed to help prepare students for future careers in STEM. We are excited to see the impact this program will have on the lives of Central Campus students and the great things to come for everyone involved.”

 “NeuroSMART is an exciting and innovative initiative for students interested in the medical sciences, giving them some experience and exposure to med school while they are still in high school,” added Kacia Cain, a science teacher at Central Campus who administers the program. “We are grateful to the STEM Council for their support and the ability to expand our work with DMU and Kemin.”

 As a STEM BEST Program, NeuroSMART will receive $25,000 from the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, which will be matched by the program partners.

Aracely Miron-Ocampowon, a senior at Hoover High School who also attends classes at Central Campus and Central Academy, recently won the high school division at DMU’s annual Research Symposium. She presented on “Bridging the Gap Between Science and Start-Up,” and the research mentoring and training opportunities for students supported by NeuroSMART. 

 Over the last five years, the NeuroSMART partners have worked together to develop a unique experience for high school students, culminating in this STEM BEST proposal: a semester-long neuroscience research class conducted at a medical school combined with career exposure and internships via site visits and mentoring with Kemin Industry scientists. Through this project, students will have the unique opportunity to study at a medical school, apply knowledge learned in project-based learning environments, and use advanced medical technology. The project will also provide students an in-depth mentorship, allowing students to build their knowledge and research skills by working with experts in the fields of neuroscience and STEM business. To date, this partnership has reached 76 students and has had a tremendous impact on underrepresented students: approximately 80% of participants to date have been female, 80% minorities, and 72% low-income.

 The goal of the program is to develop a strategic approach to increasing the number of underrepresented minorities in the neurosciences by providing opportunities and improving college and career readiness of students. Building on the program’s success, our objectives are to double the reach of the program and enroll 40 students per year (with a five year target of educating 200 students) and to continue enhancing the curriculum by including mentorships in science business/entrepreneurship. Specifically, students will collaboratively build a business model aimed at enhancing anatomy instruction through the development and sale of 3D printed models of the mammalian brain. Drawing upon the strengths of the existing partnerships, students will receive high-quality neuroscience education, learn about the creation of 3D models and 3D printing and be taught key business concepts to help them market their products.

 Established in July 2011 via Governor’s Executive Order, the Iowa Governor’s STEM Advisory Council is a public-private partnership of educators, companies and Iowa students and families addressing policies and programs designed to improve Iowa’s educational system focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The STEM Council works to engage and prepare students for a career-ready workforce path, regain our state’s historic leadership position in education and provide a vital competitive economic advantage now, and for the future, to ensure that every Iowa student has access to world-class STEM education opportunities. The 50-member STEM Council is chaired by Governor Kim Reynolds and Accumold President and CEO Roger Hargens. For more information, visit https://iowastem.gov/.

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