Thirty-nine students at Marshfield’s Lincoln and Grant Elementary Schools who recently learned how to extract DNA from strawberries never knew Donna David.

But David, who died last July in a vehicle-bicycle crash, is the primary reason they were able to participate in the activity through STEM Scouts, a new program offered by the Boy Scouts of America and hosted by the Samoset Boy Scout Council of Weston.

Third grader Sydney Venzke, (right), at Lincoln School working with Steve Kaiser, (left), lab operations manager.

STEM Scouts offer girls and boys age-appropriate hands-on experience to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in a fun and energetic way.

After David, a long-time Senior Research Associate at Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation (MCRF), died her friends and colleagues looked for a way to honor her memory. The Scouts’ STEM program was a perfect fit.

Tammy Koepel, a colleague of David’s, volunteers at the Lincoln school lab.

“Donna’s passion for science throughout her 28-year career at the Research Foundation also spilled over into the chemistry classes she taught at Northcentral Technical College,” Koepel said. “She loved sharing that passion with her students and encouraged them to pursue careers in the sciences.”

After MCRF gave the green light , the group petitioned Marshfield Clinic Health System to be a charter organization for the STEM Scout program. Clinic leadership agreed and the dream of Donna E. David Memorial STEM Scout Labs for grades 3-5 became a reality.

“It took a lot of time and effort by many of Donna’s friends and colleagues,” Koepel said. “It was very much a labor of love. We are all extremely happy that we were able to make this happen for Donna and are grateful to Marshfield Clinic for its support.”

Picture of Donna David.

MCRF, Marshfield Clinic, National Farm Medicine Center staff and other associates and friends of David’s volunteer as lab managers and assistant lab managers to run and supervise the labs, which meet after school weekly at Lincoln and Grant. The program also offers labs for middle and high school students. During each module, students participate in fun and exciting experiments while learning communication, cooperation and leadership skills, ethics and the value of others’ efforts.

The Samoset Boy Scout Council supports the program by providing curriculum, supplies, equipment and volunteer training. The Council is one of 12 councils across the nation chosen by the Boy Scouts to launch the program and the only one in Wisconsin. Labs are available in Marshfield, Stevens Point, Wausau, Nekoosa and Wisconsin Rapids. The response has been overwhelming, hopefully leading the kids on a career path in one of the STEM initiatives.

And it just may be working. At the recent STEM Scout session at Lincoln School, as third grader Sydney Venzke was squishing and then filtering strawberries to eventually extract DNA, she noted that she has loved science “since I was a kid.” Her goal one day is to be an astronaut and/or space scientist.

David would have been proud.