Science of Agriculture Challenge

Inver Hills partnering with Dakota County 4-H on inquiry-based learning project

Kristin Digiulio, biology faculty and agricultural sciences outreach coordinator at Inver Hills Community College, reported that Inver Hills is partnering with 4-H in Dakota County and University of Minnesota Extension on an inquiry-based learning project called the Science of Agriculture Challenge. The project directly engages students in team problem-solving under the close guidance of in-field advisors and/or academic mentors.
“The U of M Extension Center for Youth Development and Minnesota 4-H have made hands-on STEM learning and fostering communication skills a priority,” Kristin said. “Youth in grades six through one year past high school in Science of Agriculture Response (SOAR) teams of three to five (any age combination) can participate in the project-based Science of Agriculture Challenge.”
Kristin pointed out that the initiative incorporates the 4-H ideals of thinking globally, acting locally as outlined in the 4-H pledge dating back to 1927: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”
Students participating in the team-oriented project typically have a strong interest in STEM-related pursuits, including such areas as:

  • Bio energy
  • Design
  • Economics
  • Robotics
  • Inver goatMachinery
  • Forestry
  • Invention
  • Structures
  • Food security
  • Materials
  • Natural resources
  • Geography
  • Water quality
  • Conservation
  • Engineering
  • Food science
  • Animal health
  • Habitat
  • Or any other food, fiber, agriculture, natural resources-related subject

“Dakota County 4-H and Inver Hills have developed a program that allows qualified students to earn college credit for their Science of Agriculture Challenge project,” Kristin added, noting that college credit is available for qualified 10–12th grade students. “First-place teams can win up to $1,000 in scholarships for each member. All teams can attend the Science of Agriculture Challenge event, which will be held at the University of Minnesota in June 2018.”
Kristin noted that past teams have registered patents, partnered with Google and contracted as a start-up with Polaris. Projects can focus on a range of topics from the creation of environmentally safer dyes for wool to making energy from algae. Teams can establish process-chain relationships that reduce food waste or create inexpensive water monitoring tools.
“Possibilities to improve our community abound,” Kristin said.

Earn college credit for your SOAR project

Qualified high school and first-year college students are encouraged to enroll in Biology 1190 at Inver Hills to earn college credit while they complete their SOAR project.

BIOL 1190  Research in Biology

Course description: Introduces students to primary research in biology. In consultation with a faculty member, students will develop a plan to investigate a contemporary research question in biology. Under faculty direction, students will gain hands-on experience using equipment, procedures and techniques to collect data in the laboratory or field. Students will be required to analyze primary data and to communicate their results in writing, orally or in poster form. Other requirements to be determined by arrangement, and outlined in a contract with instructor prior to registration. Students may take this class more than once for a maximum of 9 credits.


SOAR team member spotlight: Coley Lemke

Coley Lemke and Bebop
Coley Lemke and Bebop, a lamb in her project; Coley adopted Bebop and shows her in competitions

Coley Lemke participated in the 2017 Science of Agriculture Challenge on a SOAR team coached by Kristin Digiulio. Coley’s team took home the Most Likely to Make a Difference award at the competition. Other team members were Kelby Drogemuller, a senior at Lakeville South High School, and Emilia Fredrickson, now a student at the University of St. Thomas.
Coley is an Inver Hills PSEO student from Lakeville South. She is taking classes full-time at the college. Her future career plans include working with horses, possibly in the area of equine nutrition.
“I will be going to the University of Wisconsin–River Falls next year to get my degree in Animal Science with an Equine Emphasis,” Coley said.

Coley Q & A

What was your SOAR team experience like?
It was amazing! I got to work on and research a topic that I cared about and that we chose, and I got to do it with a group of people who I knew were all equally as invested in it. This was refreshing compared to some of the group projects I’ve had to do in school where it was about a topic you didn’t care about and with a group who didn’t care. So, with all that, we actually had fun collecting data, making graphs and averaging numbers. And we all got to learn from one another and share our strengths and weaknesses.
What do you like best about the Science of Agriculture?
I loved how we got to work with topics or problems within the agricultural field and that we got to pick topics that affect our community. And even if you personally don’t raise livestock or grow crops, there’s so much more to agriculture that affects every single person in our community and on Earth. So it’s great that anyone can participate in it and have a connection to agriculture, and you don’t have to be a “farm kid.”

Kelby Drogemuller, Coley Lemke, Emilia Fredrickson
Kelby Drogemuller, Coley Lemke, Emilia Fredrickson

What was the nature and purpose of your SOAR team project?
Emilia, Kelby and I formed a team last fall and decided that we wanted to work on a project involving livestock and animal welfare. Emilia and I were planning on showing sheep the following year in 4-H, so we were both looking at breeders in our area. In this search, I came across the Dee Brothers LLC, local sheep breeders who had a very high-tech setup for feeding their bottle lambs (lambs who cannot feed off of their mother).
And that’s when we decided to partner with them and study the effectiveness of milk machines and track the weights and health of the lambs on the milk machine compared to their siblings feeding off of the ewe (mother sheep).
We went and weighed lambs weekly for more than three months and in the end collected all our data, calculated averages and graphs, and came to the conclusion that lambs off the milk machine were as healthy and profitable as their siblings on the ewe.
Once we finished our analysis, we presented quite a few times, including at the Inver Hills Annual Research Conference, the Regional SOAR Challenge, the State SOAR Challenge, and at our local Dakota County Fair.

To learn more about the Science of Agriculture Challenge and the Biology program at Inver Hills, contact:

Kristin Digiulio
Biology Faculty
Agricultural Sciences Outreach Coordinator

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