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2022 Spring/Summer Highlights of Hope

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  • Highlights of hope
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This is the 2022 Spring/Summer edition of Van Andel Institute's Highlights of Hope donor publication.

EDUCATION From

EDUCATION From Afterschool Cohort to Fulbright Scholar: One student’s journey with VAI Van Andel Institute for Education strives to foster a love of learning in every student who walks through our doors. Whether they join us for a field trip or attend one of VAI’s Afterschool Cohorts, our mission is to teach them how to think and act like a scientist. Former Afterschool Cohort student Eli Bieri exemplifies the impact of our work. Bieri, a passionate and curious scientist, was recently awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue work in amphibian conservation. “I remember hearing toad calls when I was a little kid, in the summertime from my backyard, and I was just innately drawn to that noise,” Bieri said. “From then on, I spent so much free time just wading through ponds and swamps, looking for frogs and snakes and turtles.” “I remember doing this project where I was testing what effect common pesticides or herbicides would have on African Clawed Frogs. What I really loved about that project was that I felt like the instructor really treated me like a scientist,” Bieri said. “He was like, ‘You are scientists! You’re doing science!’ That’s the kind of thinking that translates into a career in science, and I’m really grateful for that.” These days, as a Fulbright Scholar, Bieri is participating in a two-year master’s program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. Working with Dr. Jodi Rowley, he studies how aggressive wildfire suppression may negatively impact the country’s amphibian population. Bieri and Rowley hope their research will lead to better, more sustainable practices for both humans and amphibians alike. Eventually, Bieri would like to work at the intersection of land management and public policy. “I remember hearing toad calls when I was a little kid, in the summertime from my backyard, and I was just innately drawn to that noise. From then on, I spent so much free time just wading through ponds and swamps, looking for frogs and snakes and turtles.” — Eli Bieri As he grew, Bieri searched for new ways to satisfy his inquisitive nature. When a family friend received a pamphlet on VAI’s student programs, she thought of Bieri and passed the information on to his mother. That small decision would ultimately set Bieri on his trajectory toward a career in science and biology. While enrolled in Afterschool Cohort, Bieri quickly realized he’d found a place where his curiosity could be channeled into something productive and fun. Cohorts are designed around hands-on investigations where students ask questions and discover answers using scientific tools and resources. In fact, the classrooms at VAI for Education are home to many of the same reptiles and amphibians Bieri often searched for in his backyard. “VAI had a significant impact on Eli’s natural curiosity,” said his mother, Gail Greco-Bieri. “It was the spark that lit the fire for him to validate the ‘whys’ he thought about, and he continues to question today. VAI taught Eli to think like a scientist, and he’s not stopped ever since.” We are grateful to the Rottman Family Charitable Foundation for their support of Afterschool Cohort. ELI BIERI 14 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

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