WHERE OTHERS SAW A DECAYING, 2,400-ACRE AMMUNITION PLANT CLOSED FOR NEARLY 40 YEARS, CUMMINS' PRAD PATHIRANA SAW AN OPPORTUNITY TO INTRODUCE STEM TO PUBLIC SCHOOL STUDENTS.
And that’s precisely what’s happening now after the former plant, near Cummins Power Generation in Fridley, Minnesota (USA), was removed in 2015 from the Superfund list of the worst environmental sites in the United States.
Working with Pathirana and other Cummins employees, the Mounds View Public School District has turned the vacant space into a real-world, outdoor classroom, where students are performing environmental studies as public officials redevelop the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant built in 1941.
“It took Prad getting on board to push that into high gear and to look into other ways of getting involved in our district,” said Mindy Handberg, Executive Director of the Mounds View Schools Education Foundation.
KEEPING THINGS MOVING
Pathirana kept the project moving forward with tasks, timelines and status meetings. Lab equipment fills the portable classroom trailer thanks to a grant from the Cummins Foundation that Pathirana pursued.
He engaged his co-workers along the way: Safety professionals performed a safety audit, and the sales team at nearby distributor Cummins NPower sized the trailer’s generator set. A group of employees volunteered to ready the trailer for students.
For Pathirana, the trailer represents the latest milestone since he joined the company’s Community Involvement Team four years ago, intent on building a relationship with the school district.
“I wanted to start small and do something that you could build up to,” said Pathirana, an Aftermarket VPI Lead for Cummins Power Generation.
He says it has been a team effort, crediting both school officials and his fellow employees. Pathirana and his co-workers ramped up activities with the district to get Cummins employees working alongside students, ranging from judging science fairs to building a LEGO model of a Cummins engine to starting a high school internship program.
GETTING YOUTH INVOLVED
Developers want to include youth perspectives as they plan the commercial, retail, residential and green spaces they hope to develop at the site. Pathirana said that was critical to developing the outdoor classroom idea.
“Looking to the future, the site evolution into residential and urban development will provide multiple learning opportunities, where the students can feel like they are part of the plan,” Pathirana said. “This line of thinking is where we really came up with the outdoor classroom idea.”
More than 400 students have engaged in activities at the site during the 2015-16 school year, but Mounds View Science Coach Shane Wood said much more can be done.
“We haven’t come close to realizing all of the possibilities out there,” he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
Here's a look at the student activity at the site in the 2015-2016 academic year: