Drive-thru Science, Minnesota Style

Monday, January 25, 2010


As hundreds of K-12 students in central Minnesota step into the Science Express at their schools this year, few will realize how lucky they are to have a mobile, state-of-the-art science education facility at their doorstep. But they are indeed the fortunate beneficiaries of good timing, chance conversations and corporate generosity.

In its former life, the Science Express was one of three mobile simulation labs where Minnesota-based Medtronic trained physicians how to implant medical devices such as implantable defibrillators and pacemakers. As the company developed more on-site simulation facilities, the need for these mobile labs diminished. So, when SCSU alumnus and former Medtronic Vice President Dale Wahlstrom ’78 became aware of the University’s plan to create mobile science labs, he wondered: Could Medtronic’s labs be converted for this new purpose?

Wahlstrom worked the phones and put St. Cloud State in touch with Cynthia Taylor, Medtronic director of customer education operations. “Because we had used the labs for training and education,” explained Taylor, “they were just about what St. Coud State needed.”

In 2009, Medtronic donated a mobile lab to St. Cloud State, its largest gift ever to SCSU. “If we built the trailer brand new today it would cost at least $750,000,” explains Bruce Jacobson, associate professor of biology and director of bioscience outreach for St. Cloud State, who oversaw the transformation of the lab to the Science Express.

“This is a great way to bring state-of-the-art training to some of the smaller, rural schools that don’t have the capability to keep up with rapidly changing technology,” said Taylor, who noted that Medtronic has a long, proud history of training future scientists that began with founder Earl Bakken’s childhood experiments. “We hope some of these kids will enter universities and graduate to become the world’s top-rated scientists and physicians.” See related story on page 12.

- Kara Rose

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