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June 11, 2013

The Virginia Museum of Natural History has been awarded a $66,395 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission in support of STEM-H (science, technology, engineering, math, health) programming for teachers in southwestern and southern Virginia.  Through the grant, the museum will host the Virginia Integrative Institute for STEM-H Education (VIISHE) during the summer of 2014 in an effort to provide teachers with the training and information necessary to better prepare students for an increasingly scientifically-intensive education curriculum and career field.

"With education and business becoming increasingly STEM-focused, the need to provide rigorous professional development opportunities for teachers to adequately prepare our children for their futures is greater now than ever," said Dr. Denny Casey, director of education and public programs at the museum.

Delegate Don Merricks, who serves as a commissioner for the Virginia Tobacco Commission, echoed Casey’s statement.

"The Tobacco Commission recognizes the importance of having qualified teachers in all subjects, particularly in the STEM-H programs,” said Delegate Merricks.  “This grant will enable middle school teachers to obtain additional hands-on training which, in turn, will benefit students in middle school as they make decisions regarding their career paths."

Employment projections by the U.S. Department of Labor show that many of the fastest growing occupations require significant mathematics and science preparation.  The museum is in a unique position to provide scientific and education expertise to teachers who can then better prepare students for their future.

"The museum is fortunate to have highly-knowledgeable curators and educators on staff,” Casey said.  “With its expert staff and focus on current educational methods and strategies, the museum is an ideal candidate to provide teachers the necessary training and information to make science education in their classrooms a resounding success."

VIISHE consists of two, two-week long residential programs that will assist teams of middle school educators in southern and southwest Virginia in obtaining re-certification in STEM-H fields and provide an opportunity to earn graduate credit. Both institutes will take place at Fairystone State Park.

"Fifty educators will take part in the institutes," Casey said.  "The participants will be immersed in an intensive professional development experience focused on STEM-H education in order to enhance their credentials, create critical thinkers, increase science, math, engineering and healthcare literacy, and enable the next generation of innovators to succeed."

Gayle Barts, also a commissioner for the Virginia Tobacco Commission, was a key supporter of the grant.

“I was pleased to support the grant proposal submitted by the Virginia Museum of Natural History in their effort to provide STEM-H programs for our area educators, which will also be beneficial to future area students,” said Barts.  “These programs will assist middle school educators in obtaining re-certification or earn graduate credit at a reduced cost while they explore and enjoy the facilities provided by one of Virginia's state parks.” 

In addition to museum staff, the institutes will include a variety of presenters from other museums, higher learning institutes, government agencies, and health care providers.

"Presenters from multiple entities, such as New College Institute, Patrick Henry Community College, the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, and the Virginia Department of Education, among many others, will help to plan and present at the institutes," Casey said.  "With presenters from such diverse backgrounds, these two institutes will provide valuable knowledge and resources for a full scope of teaching skills and content enhancing STEM-H programs in the southern and southwest schools of Virginia."

The Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission is a 31-member body created by the 1999 General Assembly to promote economic growth and development in tobacco-dependent communities, using proceeds of the national tobacco settlement.  To date, the Commission has awarded 1,611 grants totaling more than $952 million across the tobacco region of the Commonwealth, and has made available nearly $309 million in indemnification payments to tobacco growers and quota holders.

For more information about the museum, including educational programming and scientific research, visit  For information about the Commission’s history, mission, funding programs and recent grant awards, visit or call toll free 877-807-1086.

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