Wednesday, May 30, 2018


Guest blog by Aubree Pierce, MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA with Montana State University

My project is at the MSU campus food pantry, Bounty of the Bridgers (BoB). We began having pop-up pantries in October of 2017 so we are making adjustments and trying to improve the pantry as we go. My role with this project has been integral in building capacity and creating sustainability for the BoB Pantry. Through this project I have developed relationships with many campus and community partners who have helped push this project forward and are helping create permanence and sustainability on campus. These relationships as well as the support of student volunteers are so critical to the pantry’s success. 

Two of the most important relationships established are with the grocery stores, Rosauers, Safeway, and Albertson’s, and with the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. We currently serve mostly shelf stable items and bakery recovered from local grocery stores. We are greatly supported by the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. They provide us with some produce and we also pick up some produce from grocery stores. However, the supply is often limited and lacking in variety.

I had been in some communication with the campus research farm, Towne’s Harvest Garden, but I felt that this relationship could be stronger and would be a good source to bring more produce to the pantry. I reached out to the farm managers and they were very excited to work more closely with us. They gifted us a space to grow our own produce for the BoB Pantry and are growing extra rows of their normal crops to donate to us in exchange for occasional volunteer help.

After the partnership with Towne’s was established, I applied for and was awarded a grant from Youth Service America and the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation to host a Global Youth Service Day project. For our Global Youth Service Day event, we held a Garden Kick-off and Earth Day party. This event was a huge success because we were able to get more students involved with volunteering as well as some of the pantry clients, and this event helped raise awareness of the BoB Pantry and our dedication to providing fresh, healthy foods to the MSU community.

At this event, volunteers helped prepare the garden beds, plant seeds in the field, plant seeds for transplanting, and plant seeds to take home. We also had a kid's planter pot decorating station, a local food tasting station, and a farm to table educational station.

We will continue to have students and youth volunteer and be involved with the garden through the summer. We are excited to see fresh, nutritious food come to those in need, and we are excited to provide a learning opportunity for children to learn more about gardening, local food, and where their food comes from.

This event was so much fun and a great way to end the semester. I am filled with pride and I am in awe of the enthusiasm of the students and community who came together to work on this project. The students have made the pantry a success. It’s incredible to see so many young individuals engaged in service to better their community. The student volunteers that I am so lucky to be surrounded by are an inspiration and they have made my VISTA service feel so impactful. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018


Guest Blogger: MTCC VISTA Haley Spurlin

In the Fall, I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 GEAR UP West Conference in Portland, Oregon with the Troy Junior/Senior High School (THS) GEAR UP team. During the conference, I attended a session titled “Storyboards – Collaborative Plans Connecting Students, Schools, and Families” led by Washington State GEAR UP team members. This session focused on explaining the value of collaborative goal setting throughout students’ time in high school so that students would have a clearly defined post-secondary plans upon graduation. Since my VISTA project revolves around creating resources to assist students in their post-secondary planning process, this session was a perfect fit.

Essentially, the Washington State GEAR UP team created individualized posters for each grade level so that students could begin to write down their plans and aspirations for the future. At the end of each year, the posters are displayed in the hallways for a “Gallery Walk” which families are invited to attend to celebrate the students’ goals; then, the posters are mailed home for parents to keep.  By the end of their high school career, students are able to look back and see how their goals and interests have shifted and can then turn the goals into action plans.

Examples of what could be included on a Storyboard are: career aspirations, advice from teachers/family, team members (who is supporting you), top college choices, grades, GPA, test scores, potential college majors/programs, scholarships you are applying for, deadlines, etc. Think of the Storyboard as a checklist of sorts. What does a student need to do each year in order to be prepared for college? What do students need to be thinking about when they are making decisions for their future? This way, students and families are aware of needs to happen each year which can help ease the anxiety associated with transitioning to college.

We started our Storyboards with the 7th and 8th grade students as a part of their “Strut Your Stuff” projects (students create a tri-fold board with their Storyboard, examples of their best work from the year, results of a career interest survey, information about their learning style, and whatever else they want to include about themselves. These tri-fold boards are displayed during the JR High Awards Ceremony) and we were able to use class time to help them complete their posters.

Thus far, student response has been positive. Having creative and fun posters to talk about your goals definitely helped, and telling them that they would be displayed at the “Strut Your Stuff” Ceremony motivated students to take the project more seriously.

I have attached a photo of the 7th and 8th grade Storyboard I created using the amazing and FREE (100% recommend for all your graphic design needs!!). If you would like view Storyboards for each grade level, they are available on the THS GEAR UP blog ( If you have any questions or ideas to add to our Storyboards, please share! You can reach me via email at

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Guest Blogger: MTCC VISTA Aubree Pierce

The BoBPantry at MSU relies upon student support and enthusiasm for the project. Not just as volunteers during pantry operating hours, but to help spread awareness of food insecurity and food waste on campus and to break down the stigma around hunger and receiving food assistance. The Food Resource Council student club is the driving force, the lifeblood, and the reason why the BoB Pantry has been so successful during its pilot year.

Over the weekend of March 24th-25th, 2018 I traveled to the Campus Kitchens Food Waste and Hunger Summit in Indianapolis with my VISTA supervisor, who is also the faculty advisor for the Food Resource Council (FRC) student club, along with three other students who are part of the FRC leadership team. This experience gave these students an opportunity to hear about other initiatives to alleviate food waste and food insecurity nationwide and helped reinvigorate their passion for the work that we are doing through the BoB Pantry.

At this conference, the FRC students and I presented on the Bounty of the Bridgers MSU Food Pantry, and we held a problem-solving decision making open house session. We asked that attendees of the session pair up, present a problem or obstacle that they have been facing to their partner, and discuss potential solutions with their partner. This activity gave individuals an opportunity to receive an outside perspective on obstacles or barriers that they have been facing and a chance to talk about their problems with someone new. Our presentation also provided perspective on our pantry model that some in their beginning stages may take direction from. My supervisor attended this conference in 2017, and she said, “It’s amazing to see how far we have come in the last year. When we were here last year, we were the ones asking the questions and now we are the ones answering the questions.”

We also had the opportunity to learn about the campus pantry at IUPUI, the host college for the conference. This pantry is in the stage that the BoB Pantry is currently transitioning into, so being able to network with the pantry coordinators at this site and familiarize myself with their operations was exceptionally beneficial to beginning planning the BoB Pantry’s phase 2 operations.

This was a wonderful experience to share with the students and for myself as a young professional. I am happy that the students were able to immerse themselves for a weekend into these important issues motivating them to keep working diligently to improve food security and food access. This conference exposed me to several national initiatives to combat hunger on college campuses and boosted my enthusiasm for and dedication to alleviating food insecurity. I hope that next year’s VISTA for this project will have the opportunity for this experience as well.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Told by Montana Tech's AmeriCorps Team Leader Rachel Towsnend.

TRIO Day students attend the Closing Ceremony hosted by Montana Tech Chemistry

“This is so awesome! Much cooler than a tour around campus…” 
On February 23rd, Montana Tech of the University of Montana celebrated TRIO Day, an opportunity to focus the nation's "attention on the needs of disadvantaged young people and adults aspiring to improve their lives if they are to become contributing citizens of the country, and to the talent which will be wasted if that investment is not made."

Students head underground for a tour of one of Butte’s inactive mines.
Students from middle and high schools in and around the Butte area came to our university to experience first-hand the voluptuous opportunities college access will provide them. From touring underground mines with professionals to memorization from Tech’s chemistry students demonstrating various chemical reactions, it was certainly a day worth celebrating.
Junior and Senior Upward Bound students after their tour
of one of Butte’s inactive mines

Although four-year universities do not bode well with every person’s career aspirations, academia past high school allots everyone an opportunity that otherwise would not be possible. It is important for students to realize their potential and begin thinking about life after high school from an early age;

however, it is one thing to be told of different possibilities and entirely another to see what is possible in face-to-face situations.
During the event, junior and senior Upward Bound students had an opportunity to travel 100 feet underground to tour an inactive educational mine. They walked with lights on their hardhats, reflective vests on their backs, and smiles on their faces. Butte is known as the “Richest Hill on Earth” for its mining history, which the majority of the students who came to campus for this year’s TRIO Day celebration are interested in pursuing to some degree.

Sublimity has a funny way of taking over when you have a room full of countywide students who are genuinely excited about their next steps.
High School TRIO students.
TRIO student with Amanda Curtis, a member of the Montana
House of Representatives.

Friday, March 16, 2018


EmPower Place is a hands-on family learning center that brings together science exhibits, University of Montana role models, library books, activities, and free snacks. Located at Missoula Food Bank, EmPower Place is a collective impact effort by spectrUM, Missoula Food Bank, and Missoula Public Library. EmPower Place is powered by the City of Missoula, the Missoula Redevelopment Agency, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

We strive to educate and encourage critical thinking in all activities we do, whether it is for science or for art. We have activities scheduled almost every day of the week. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays we have our after-school programing called the After-School Clubhouse, which includes a cooking class, a game day, and a science making & tinkering day.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, the Missoula Public Library hosts its Tiny Tales programming in our space in the morning. Tiny Tales is a program where a library employee will sit down and read children’s books and sing songs that the kids love. On Fridays we have a different guided art project where kids can explore the ideas ranging from what a water shed is, to making valentines cards for refugees living in Missoula.

Monday Cooking:

Every Monday afternoon we have our after-school club house where we have a cooking class. One day this month we made fruit sculptures held together by caramel and tooth picks. Pictured here is FruitBot 9001, a robot with the mission to destroy hunger.Each week we get to learn new cooking techniques, practical skills, and how to be effective and safe in a kitchen.

Science Tuesday:

Every week at EmPower we spend our Tuesday morning learning about a new science topic by doing a variety of activities. Each month we have a theme, and February’s theme was Love Our Neighbors. This month we had hygiene, neurons and brains, and blood typing and hearts.
Hygiene: First you must take care of yourself: Learn how to wash your hands with GloGerm, brush your teeth and wash dishes. GloGerm can show you how well you wash your hands, by showing spots you missed under a black light. We can also see any spots we missed when brushing our teeth and the importance of flossing by seeing our green ‘food’ on the teeth.

Making & Tinkering Thursdays:

On Thursdays our After-school Clubhouse hosts a spectrUM discovery area Making & Tinkering activity. One day this month we made a giant cardboard castle using no scissors or tape. It even had a functional draw bridge to cross our moat.

These weekly science/making & tinkering activities really make the kids think outside the box and problem solve a whole host of potential problems that can come up in science. The activates usually include a team work component so that everyone can work together to solve the problem at hand. We have made giant soccer balls out of straws, hoverboards, and bouncy rockets this month, in addition to the card board castle.

Our after-school program at EmPower Place is starting to take off and we are seeing more kids every single day. Starting in April I EmPower staff will be taking over the control of cooking classes from the food bank, where we will have an even more personal touch with that programming. I am excited to see how the program evolves and ready for any changes that might be included with that.

Thursday, February 22, 2018


At the beginning of February, I had the opportunity to travel to the NCCEP/GEAR UP Capacity Building Workshop in Las Vegas, Nevada with the GEAR UP department from LibbyHigh School, my MTCC service site. As a VISTA, I saw the words capacity building and thought “I’M IN!”

Sunny Las Vegas was a beautiful reprieve from cold and cloudy Libby but I took home a lot more than a suntan and the tiny condiments they left out at breakfast. I took home a fresh outlook on bringing a college and career mindset to Libby students. We attended three days of sessions. The first day focused on excelling our ideas and programs, the second day on demonstrating effective capacity building strategies, and the third day we learned how to mobilize these ideas and programs and maximize results.

Because my service year is concentrating on professionalizing and promoting the high school internship program among students and families in Libby, I attended seminars and workshops with titles like “Putting the CAREER in College and CareerReadiness,” “Breaking Through to Disengaged Students”, and “Culturally-Responsive Communications in Family Engagement.” The focus in each session was to present classroom tested and ready information. Because we VISTAs primarily do indirect service, it took some creative thinking to reframe how these tools could be applied to my service. For example, in the “Breaking Through to Disengaged Students” workshop, we moved around a lot to keep from getting sleepy in the classroom. Even without a classroom, I can incorporate active tasks into the presentations I give to students and community members about our internship program.

I have a special place in my heart for family engagement. In Libby, we too struggle with getting parents involved in academic and career related functions. In many cases, the staff create an additional mentor-type relationship for students who need extra support. I find myself taking students under my wing to walk them through financial planning for college or even just asking how their day is going - providing safe daily check-in spaces.

There are also many families in Libby who want to be involved but they don't know how, or are afraid to be. They are the family engagement targets! As we learned on day 2, students whose parents are involved at school are more likely to have good grades, attend college, etc. Because Libby is a tight community that values hard work, I think more highly involved parents is a reachable goal. I am working on instigating bi-weekly parent/GEAR UP meetings to build trust in our community and form a group of parents that will spread the college and career readiness word.

I took home several great ideas from the Capacity Building conference, but like most great ideas, they are harder to instigate in reality than in concept. Both the administrative and budget barriers that come with working in a high-risk school can be frustrating. One of our keynote speakers, Linda Cliatt-Wayman, used to be the principal at Strawberry Mansion High School in Philadelphia. Her students were affected by extreme poverty and violence everyday. She made two main points all education communities can all hold onto. The first: If you don't do it, who will? This encourages the social pioneers in all of us to serve with purpose and to the best of our abilities. The second was even more personal. She told us that she used to get on the announcements everyday telling her students “If no one told you they love you today, remember I do and I always will.” The best way to lead is with love and if no one told you they love you today, I do. I am proud to be a part of such a hardworking education focused community!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018


Students from across the Flathead Reservation gathered at Salish Kootenai College for Flathead Tech4Good’s Winter Game Jam the weekend of February 9th. Games were played, tested, and dissected as we refined prototypes from our Fall Game Jam and made plans for our next collaborative project!

The game’s Water Warriors and Mussel Hustle were prototyped the first weekend in November. Since then, students behind the project spent time with our partners at Native Teaching Aids designing the game board, playing pieces and cards.
On Saturday morning, both polished games were play-tested for feedback and refinement. Students and volunteers, who had never seen the games, played in groups of four or five. Volunteers from Native Teaching Aids and the students who crafted the games took notes on the game’s mechanics and educational components for further refinement.

With feedback in hand, both games will be finalized in time for presentation at our Spring Game Jam in May.

Polson, Charlo, Ronan and St. Ignatius were represented by students from 1st to 10th grade. Because of the wide age range, we structured the weekend into blocks to allow more unique interests to be explored.

For example, Saturday afternoon we had students designing “Choose Your Own Adventure” style stories using a free application called Twine; at the same time, we had students exploring virtual reality with an art-based program called TiltBrush that allows users to paint in a fully immersive, 3D environment. Other students learned some tips and tricks for Photoshop while some kept playing and designing games!

“Do you have these every weekend?” one girl asked.
The first steps towards creating a virtual “scavenger hunt” on the reservation were taken Saturday night and Sunday morning. We wrapped up the weekend with a to-do list of goals to accomplish between now and the Spring Game Jam and a plan to see the new project to fruition in the coming months.

In the Summer, participating students have the unique opportunity to present their work in front of the Immersive Learning Research Network at their annual conference. Last year it was held in Portugal; this year it will take place in Missoula, Montana. We’re excited to continue working with the students involved and can’t wait for their chance to present on a global platform!