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‘Ape Initiative’ brings real-world science to Nashville students




NASHVILLE, Tenn., (WKRN) – A nonprofit organization offers a new learning experience about efforts to preserve student primacy at Vanderbilt University and Nashville Metro Public Schools.

The Ape Bridge Initiative does world-class research happening around the world with K-12 students showing them real world science. The research structure has been the only one in the world dedicated to the study and conservation of the most endangered bonobot-related species.

News 2 spoke with Angela Eeds, Director of the School of Science and Mathematics at Vanderbilt, and Sarah Huneycutt, Instructor for the Discovery Day Program at the Nashville Zoo, about the program.

Eeds said it has been a challenge to move from personal learning to distance learning. However, this effort is all part of a larger collaboration for education and communication with STEM in Vanderbilt. They partner with local schools to provide opportunities for further education and have programs for primary, secondary and high school students.

“It’s all about other people with whom they can interact. So it’s not just listening. Conversations are back and forth conversations, ”Eeds explained.

This is where the Ape Initiative comes in. During the pandemic, educators sought new ways to connect with students. The director of the Ape Initiative, Jared P. Taglialatela, agreed to cooperate.

Students connected via video with researchers working with endangered animals and were asked questions.

“They are getting this truly unique experience to see these animals – these endangered animals – that are only found in a few captive places around the world. It has been a pleasure to see them engaged and enlightened. “And it was great because the Ape Initiative offered opportunities, not only to learn about animals and conservation, but also to use them as a motivator to get kids excited about science in general,” Huneycutt explained.

Vanderbilt officials said it is essential to give students these opportunities and exposure to STEM, as they have seen the impact of how it can change the course of a student’s future career.

“It is great to see what our students are doing and what they are doing after graduation. We learned that one of our graduates from 2011 earned his PhD in Oceanography and returned to Vanderbilt and the Nashville area as a professional scientist. I received an email just the other day from a student who, while on campus, helped build a solar furnace with an engineering team, and this opened my eyes to public health. “Now she is focusing on public health and because of her experience here, she was able to get one of the few internship opportunities with her university this year,” Eeds explained.

Both Eeds and Huneycutt said they are trying to include these opportunities as much as possible for students. Students are doing everything from taking seminars to lectures by people working with initiative to design their studies. The Ape Initiative then collects data about them, and they go through the whole search process.

“Oneshtë one where they decided whether the bonobots would pick bananas or grapes? Then they get to watch the trials while the bonobo is presented with a grape and a banana. They manage to encode data, analyze data, and graph data. “They compare it to their hypothesis, and draw a conclusion, and they use that to study the scientific method,” Huneycutt explained.

“Every day, we are looking for more opportunities for our students to include them in our community and make a positive impact. We have some 12th graders working with the Tennessee Environmental Council to let people know that they can build a pollinating garden or start a trash can in their backyard. “Even as we live farther apart, we can do things that benefit our community,” said Eeds.

Huneycutt said they have been able to reach students who are also struggling during the pandemic.

“We are able to include some of the studies that have been done with monkeys to talk to children about emotion processing and to think about ancestors, and even to be able to think about our feelings. So we need to have self-knowledge, the ability of the mind or the perspective of another person, so we are able to use monkeys to make kids think more about themselves, “Huneycutt said.

You can learn more about the Ape Initiative from by clicking here. They are offering all these opportunities to Vanderbilt and Metro students at no cost.

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