Six Days of STEM

Posted: July 11, 2019

Ten inquisitive educators gathered in June for a unique opportunity that has taken place in DeKalb County for two decades.

The teachers were participants in the 20th Summer Ag Institute (SAI), a graduate course and professional development opportunity designed for educators. “Exploring STEM Tools in Food & Farming” was the theme for this year’s SAI.

The defining component of any Summer Ag Institute is tours of farms and agribusinesses which immerse teachers in the ag industry. During the 2019 SAI the group visited ten locations as they explored how the tools of science, technology, engineering, and math are used in food production.

The tour experiences were woven together with a variety of related presentations, discussions, and hands-on agricultural lessons.

Participants in the 2019 SAI had the option of earning either 3 graduate credits from the University of St. Francis or 45 continuing professional development units (CPDUs). Either option aided educators in keeping their teaching licenses current.

The Summer Ag Institute was conducted by DeKalb County Farm Bureau in partnership with the DeKalb Regional Office of Education and Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom.

Day 1

Engineering a machine to perform a specific task

Ben Sondgeroth (pictured, middle) of the Illinois Learning Technology Center introduced tools and activities teachers can use to teach about technology in farming. Here, he looks on as Monica Winckler (left) and Jacquie Futrell (right) design a machine to move a corncob. Monica and Jacquie are 4th grade teachers at H.E. Dummer Elementary in Sandwich.

Using drones and field maps to maximize crop yield

Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom delivers three-hour SAI workshops to introduce ag literacy lessons, activities, and learning resources. Here, teachers learn that drones can be used to map crop conditions and explore ways to maximize yield in a given field.

Agricultural career awareness, unlocked

SAI participants utilize a “Breakout Box” to explore careers in the ag industry. Clues provided in informational reading allow them to open a series of locks to find the final prize. Shown are (from left, facing camera) Joe McCormick, Sarah Kneller, and Leah Koehne of Sycamore High School.


Day 2

What’s red, white, and wears ear tags?

The Lenkaitis dairy herd includes many red and white Holsteins along with the more commonly-seen black and white animals. Here, teachers discover how the modern dairy barn ensures optimal dairy cow health, nutrition, and comfort.

Robots and automation ensure dairy cow health and milk safety

SAI teachers watch a cow being milked as Sarah Lenkaitis (left) of Lenkaitis Dairy Farm in St. Charles explains the robotic milkers used on her family’s farm.

Looking for a green career? Grow groundcovers.

Production Manager Matthew Fredrickson of Midwest Groundcovers shows SAI participants the unique behavior of a mimosa plant, which wilts when touched.


Day 3

Growing local tomatoes all year long

Ruben Vicencio, head grower at Mighty Vine’s Rochelle location, explains the hydroponic process their company uses to grow vine-ripened greenhouse tomatoes.

Making ethanol feeds vehicles, livestock, and people

CHS Ethanol in Rochelle is one of 14 ethanol-producing plants in Illinois. During the SAI tour, teachers learned the steps of ethanol production and how no part of the kernel is wasted. In addition to ethanol, the Rochelle plant makes dried distillers grains (DDGs), a nutritious feed for meat-producing livestock.

How do you know it’s a GMO?

Before a screening of the documentary film “Food Evolution,” SAI teachers delved into GMO technology with a series of activities. Here, Sycamore High School teachers Leah Koehne and Scott Horlock conduct a comparison of conventional and genetically engineered soybeans to determine which is the GMO variety.


Day 4

Flavor chemistry fascinates

Teachers Jim Kohler of Sycamore Middle School and Todd Hallaron of Huntley Middle School in DeKalb listen as Community Education Director Katie Sudler (standing) explains how ingredient density can affect beverages. Katie conducted a workshop on food flavoring during the SAI tour of FONA International in Geneva. Below, Lisa Wilkinson from Sycamore Middle School and Shelley Lawson from the Children’s Learning Center in DeKalb compare the density of different liquids.

Banking on donated food reduces waste, alleviates hunger

Hester Bury, Director of Corporate and Foundation Giving, conducts a tour of Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva. SAI teachers learned how the food bank coordinates food donations and volunteer assistance to distribute food to over 800 food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, and other sites across northern Illinois.

Engineering and technology enable cattle safety, production efficiency

During a visit to Larson Farms near Maple Park, teachers learn how the Temple Grandin-designed cattle handling system combined with ultrasound technology are used to maximize animal welfare and production efficiency.


Days 5 & 6

Drones deliver benefits for farmers

Bob Myers of Hawk Aerial Imagery describes the use of drones in farming, aerial photography, and emergency search and rescue.

Balancing barrels of bourbon

Stacks of whiskey barrels tower over the teachers as Whiskey Acres co-owner Nick Nagele explains how their corn-based spirits are aged.

Quality seed requires science and sorting

Summer Ag Institute participants sort undesired seeds and plant parts from soybeans as they explore the role of Bayer’s Seed Technology Center in Waterman.

Panelists present perspectives

The last day of each Summer Ag Institute offers teachers a chance to ask questions of a panel of experts representing different facets of the ag industry. Here, panelists (from left) Wesley Lyons of Pipestone Veterinary Services, Katie Betz of Nutrien Ag Solutions, and Somonauk area farmer and DeKalb County Farm Bureau president Mark Tuttle field questions.

Take a look back at 20 years of the Summer Ag Institute: HERE