Last fall, 38 Wyandotte County middle schoolers got a chance to learn about extreme weather and disaster preparedness at three Saturday events led by the University of Kansas Natural History Museum. The new youth program – called Build Your Future – is a key educational pillar of the ARISE project.

Teresa MacDonald, associate director of informal science education at the KU Natural History Museum, leads the program. Her team includes museum staff Eleanor Gardner and Carolyn Kocken, KU’s TRIO Talent Search Director Rebecca Dukstein, and several student assistants.

Dr. MacDonald said that they initially planned for 25 students to participate but it was way more popular than expected, with 38 total participants arriving the first day and a waiting list.

High turnout was not the only notable outcome.

The team was thrilled to see that the students maintained a strong commitment, with most attending all three Saturday events from late September through mid-November. Students also reported that the experience left them feeling more knowledgeable about and prepared for a natural disaster, and all but one student reported that they learned about science & engineering.

The events were held at the F.L. Schlagle Public Library in Kansas City, Kansas. With its environmental learning center, this library has outdoor space that can be used for hands-on curriculum.

At the first session, students collected and analyzed data such as temperature, soil and air quality, and biological diversity to learn about differences between natural and built environments. At the second and third sessions, they explored tornadoes, flooding, extreme heat, and winter storms, using games and other activities to learn about ways to limit damage from disasters. The third and final session concluded with each student taking home a basic preparedness kit with an emergency weather radio and a stipend for participation.

For the next three years, the team will offer this program again in the fall along with a series of ‘family STEM nights’ in the spring. Hundreds of KCK youth and families will benefit—gaining knowledge, resilience, and pathways toward future careers of consequence to Kansas. 

Teens look at soil outside in grassy field

A new program for Kansas City youth called Build Your Future exceeds enrollment expectations and inspires students from Kansas City, Kansas public schools to learn about science, engineering, and more.