Out-of-School Time Cohort Program

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Out-of-School Time Cohort Program Details

The cohort program inspires groups of students to think and act like scientists over the course of three years. Through hands on investigations, they ask questions, investigate and discover the answers using scientific tools and resources.

Cohorts of approximately 20 students model the nature of scientific work as they build relationships with their teammates and explore biodiversity at the species, ecosystem and genetic levels. They model the same practices used by scientists as they collaborate, inspire and hold each other accountable for their discoveries.

There is no cost for participation in this program. Tuition is underwritten by Van Andel Institute.

To view the program application process click here

Program Overview

Students learn to think and act like scientists by pursuing answers to the question, “How does our health depend on biodiversity?” Through active engagement in scientific practices, students investigate species, ecosystem and genetic diversity over the course of three years.

Year 1: Species Diversity
Study the survival requirements of organisms such as bearded dragons, toads and newts through hands on investigations.

Year 2: Ecosystem Diversity
Design and monitor ecosystem models to explore species interactions, changes in the environment and the services our ecosystems provide.

Year 3: Genetic Diversity
Investigate the role model organisms (bacteria, daphnia and Wisconsin Fast Plants) play in helping us to better understand human health.

Program Goals

Students who are curious and interested in the natural world:

  • Explore topics in the life sciences 
  • Conduct investigations on age appropriate problems and questions 
  • Use their curiosity and develop critical thinking while pursuing answers to their questions 
  • Learn content, become more competent in scientific techniques, and deepen their understanding of the essentials of science inquiry

Program Impact

Not only does the Education Institute provide an exceptional learning experience, but our staff analyzes how students learn science, and our goal is to share this knowledge with other educators, making a national impact. VAEI will serve as a launching pad for future programs that address some or all of the following needs:

  • Enabling middle-school students to be successful in the study of science
  • Enriching the science preparation of high school students 
  • Assisting parents in encouraging their children in science 
  • Empowering K-12 science teachers to be more effective in their science instruction


Cohorts reflect the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of Grand Rapids. Not only does this address the widely acknowledged under-representation of American ethnic minorities in science and technology, but also the finding that economic diversity in a class narrows the achievement gap among high and low socioeconomic students. We seek to understand how children of all backgrounds learn science so we can better teach and inspire all children.