New Missoula library to provide STEM training in partnership with UM

Holly Truitt, right, speaks to children, parents, business leaders and fundraiser leaders during a recent tour of new Missoula Public Library. (Renata Birkenbuel/Missoula Current)

The Missoula City Council voted Monday to approve a contract in partnership with the University of Montana to provide health-care workforce training at the new Missoula Public Library when it opens in 2020.

The $34,774 contract – part of a National Institute of Health grant agreement with UM – will specifically engage children and families in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – known as STEM disciplines.

It is part of a larger $1.3 million, 5-year grant the city received last summer to support The Link, which will take a community-based, collective-impact approach to co-creating health science and healthy living experiences that are culturally relevant.

Project leaders Rachel Severson, UM psychology professor, and Holly Truitt, consultant to the city, aim to meet “the unique economic and workforce needs of Missoula and its neighboring rural and tribal communities,” according to the project description.

Bottom line: The project will position The Link, Missoula’s new library-museum complex opening next summer, as a vibrant “Third Place” hub for health-science learning, healthy living and STEM engagement.

The NIH grant will provide enough funding so children and teens will be admitted free to all activities, including the kid-named DNA Tornado climbing sculpture that will rise over two floors.

“The vision of this library was that it’s an all-under-one-roof concept,” said Severson, in which the children’s museum and SpectrUM Science Discovery Area will be free and accessible to all. “Those remove the barriers to entry. That’s the beauty, the vision of the new library there – having the brick and mortar there – and having similar missions.”

The $34,774 grant will cover the first year of STEM programs at the library.

“That will fund us starting up the Living Lab, which will be on the first floor of the library,” said Severson. “UM researchers will be engaged in research there so children and families can participate. We will talk about the research we’re doing, so there is an outreach component to it.”

In the grant’s second year, the Living Lab will include three components for curious kids and eventually for teens: behavioral research, neuroscience and a combination of both for older youth.

“High school students will be able to be mentored by UM researchers both in the behavioral sciences and the neurosciences,” said Severson.

The behavioral sciences will help kids understand others and learn the implications of their individual learning and moral decision-making, she said.

The neuroscience lab will run in collaboration with the SpectrUM lab on the second floor. SpectrUM will relocate from 812 Toole to the library.

Severson directs the Minds Lab, where she and her UM research team study anthropomorphism. She also studies the effects of screen time vs. green time – and how technology affects child cognitive development.

Previously, Truitt worked at SpectrUM on campus and its Broader Impacts Group.

Contract Business Reporter Renata Birkenbuel at 406-565-0013 and renatab@missoulacurrent.com.