MINNEAPOLIS – Vikings kicker Greg Joseph and Gavin, a young Northside Achievement Zone student, were hard at work last Tuesday afternoon.
Joseph and Gavin, along with a group of other elementary school students, brainstormed and experimented with a small number of simple household items – such as popsicle sticks – until they'd constructed a complicated-looking contraption.
"Our goal was to build a contraption to get a marble into a cup with whatever items they were given. Just picking the kids' brains and helping them be creative, it was fun and lighthearted," Joseph said.
"I want to say me and Gavin had the biggest drop in the room," he added proudly. "We built a contraption that dropped the marble from a table to the floor, and we made a way for it to stay in the cup, so credit to Gavin. I was just there to supervise."
Joseph joined Vikings teammates Christian Darrisaw and Janarius Robinson, and approximately 50 students from Northside Achievement Zone, at the Bakken Museum for a unique STEM event hosted by the Vikings, Medtronic and the Medtronic Foundation.
"Giving back to the community is something that's been really huge for me throughout the whole process, just coming into the NFL and knowing I have a bigger platform now, and I can reach different people at every age group," Darrisaw said. "I felt like, for the first community service event to do [as a Viking], to come and give back to these elementary kids was perfect."
The young people were welcomed for the afternoon by Medtronic Foundation Director Liz Lund and Vikings Chief Marketing Officer Martin Nance.
Nance, who had his own brief time as an NFL receiver prior to jump-starting his business career, pointed to the significance of player participation.
"It's so special to see your heroes on Sunday show up and help you work through an engineering project on a Tuesday afternoon," Nance said. "It's really cool to see it in-person. The players are so engaged and excited to give back to the kids walking in shoes they once did. It's really cool to see, and I know it's special for the kids."
Medtronic President of Mechanical Circulatory Support Nnamdi Njoku, who serves on the company's African Descent Network, also greeted the students.
Njoku emphasized the importance of exposing students of color to STEM career paths and opportunities at a young age, and of introducing those students to professionals in the STEM field who share similar backgrounds.
"If you can see us, you can be us," Njoku said.
"We're very intentional about bringing people that look like that community, as well," he added of Medtronic volunteers who assisted with the science projects. "Because we know that when kids can see what the possibilities are in STEM, and not only see it but also have interactions with people who are actually doing it, I feel like that's the best way to get the inspiration and get the kids excited about STEM careers."
The students received a brief lesson about simple machines thanks to Science with Scientists, and they also learned about renowned scientist Lonnie Johnson, a NASA engineer who has more than 100 patents to his name – and, maybe most importantly to the young audience, invented the Super Soaker.
Vikings players and approximately 50 students from Northside Achievement Zone participated in a unique STEM event hosted by the Vikings and Medtronic.
Vikings Vice President of Social Impact Brett Taber accentuated the organization's mission to impact the lives youth around their education.
"To be out here at the Bakken Museum with Medtronic and all these kids from Northside Achievement Zone [today is incredible]," Taber said. "Our players are able to have a phenomenal time helping share these experiences with kids and helping them learn about different ways – such as science and technology – to grow their learning horizons for the future."
Sondra Samuels, President & CEO of Northside Achievement Zone, echoed Taber's thoughts and expressed gratitude to the Vikings, Medtronic and the Medtronic Foundation for continuing to make a positive impact in the community.
"Our children, our country, our community – they're going through some things right now," Samuels said. "COVID and violence and crime and uncertainty about tomorrow, kids getting behind academically because of everything that happened during COVID – we really have to meet the moment.
"We have to surround our kiddos, who have such unlimited potential, particularly in North Minneapolis, where sometimes we're not as valued as some other communities," Samuels continued. "So to have the Vikings and the players and Medtronic volunteers, including their African Descent Network of scientists and people in technology who look like the kids … and then to be here at Bakken. I mean, this is a time where we need hope. We need to know that we're not alone, that we're in this together.
And that's what this represents to me – it's a hopeful day," Samuels added. "I know the kids aren't going to forget it."
Darrisaw, Joseph and Robinson spent nearly two hours with their groups. They helped engineer the contraptions but also answered football questions and in turn asked the students about their interests and academic goals.
The teammates additionally signed autographs and posed for photos – fully masked – with the young people.
"This is a blast," Joseph said. "Especially with everything that's been going on, to try to get out in the community as much as possible, which has been limited for the past couple of years [due to the pandemic], so this is awesome.
"It's bigger than football," he added. "They think we're helping out by coming out here, but it puts so much into perspective for us, giving back and just putting smiles on students' faces. … They think it's doing a lot for them, but they really do more for me, because I just love helping out here."
Joseph said science didn't top his list of favorite classes growing up. But he does love problem-solving, as evidenced by his weekly participation in the Vikings "Friday Challenge" activities.
"I enjoyed [science, but]. Recess was probably my favorite," he quipped. "But no, my mom's a math teacher, so math and history were my two favorites.
"I love puzzles, I love riddles, stuff like that," he added. "I try to always have my brain working."
Joseph isn't the only one with a parent in the STEM field.
Darrisaw explained that his dad is a scientist by trade, but a passion for the subject didn't necessarily carry over.
"I really wasn't a big fan of science," Darrisaw said. "Growing up in elementary school, high school, my science grades weren't always the best, and my dad would always get on me about it since he was a scientist, and he wanted me to be able to do the same things he could do. But seeing this now, I'm definitely enjoying myself and having fun."
So, will Darrisaw fill his dad in on his accomplishments at the Bakken Museum?
"Oh, I called him before I came, and he was happy for me," Darrisaw laughed.