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'Vikings Voyage' Elementary Field Trip Introduces STEM Careers


MINNEAPOLIS – Joshua Dobbs relayed the play call to his quarterback.

Wait … what?

You read that right, but the setting likely is different than you might have expected.

Dobbs spent his Nov. 21 day off at U.S. Bank Stadium's Vikings Voyage space, where he worked with third graders on fun activities that intertwined football and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts. At one of the stations, Dobbs and a youngster sat at separate tables, facing away from each other, and each wore a headset. In front of them were identical sets of LEGO blocks.

The Vikings quarterback played "coach" for the afternoon, delivering instructions on how to construct the LEGOs to the "QB," whose headset also pumped in artificial crowd noise to disrupt communication.

Dobbs has been undergoing his own crash course in the Vikings playbook since joining the team via trade Oct. 31.

"The coach is building a LEGO set, just like a coach on the football field will build the play, and then the player has to go out and take the coaching points and execute the play … while dealing with crowd noise and external factors," he explained. "My group did a good job; I think we had some pretty good communicators.

"My player was very close to having the exact same play as mine," Dobbs said. "It was fun. It was really cool to show a simulation what it's like on game day to be a coach and a player on the field."

Dobbs was joined by teammates Greg Joseph and Sheldon Day, both of whom have strong STEM interests off the field, as well as Vikings General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and his wife Chelsea for the special experience.

Thanks to a partnership between the Minnesota Vikings Foundation and the Science Museum of Minnesota, Vikings Voyage is a field trip program that regularly hosts elementary schools at U.S. Bank Stadium, where students experience football-themed STEM-based curriculum activities and are introduced to a range of careers and backgrounds via videos filmed with Vikings staff. While on the field trips, students record data, stream career videos and capture content on Microsoft Surface Tablets, courtesy of Microsoft.

"First and foremost, we're incredibly grateful and proud of this partnership with the Minnesota Vikings Foundation. The energy is palpable; you can see all the excitement in the kids' eyes," said Jon Severson, Senior Director of Strategic Partnerships and Government Relations for the Science Museum of Minnesota. "I think this is fantastic because it really unites two much-loved Minnesota institutions under the common goal of providing access to STEM experiences and exploring STEM careers.

"This helps bring STEM principles to life for young people," Severson added. "I think every young football player in Minnesota dreams about becoming a Minnesota Viking and playing on this field. We know that isn't going to happen for everyone, and [we also understand] every student here today doesn't have to be a scientist. But it's important for them to know the opportunity does exist for them."

The Vikings guests spent time with the Deer River Elementary students in the unique and interactive space, which also features a vertical jump activity, a shuttle speed drill and a football sled on which young people can test their tackling techniques.

View photos of students engaging with hands-on football STEM activities and career pathways during a Vikings Voyage field trip.

They also engaged in a Q&A with the young people, who came prepared with insightful, STEM-related questions for the group.

One student asked the players what STEM job they'd be most interested in, had they not first pursued a career in the NFL. Dobbs, who has an aerospace engineering degree and has interned for NASA, said – to no one's surprise – an astronaut. Day could imagine himself being a food chemist, and Joseph would like to work in kinesiology.

Other question topics included the sum of all jersey numbers on Minnesota's roster (has yet to be added up), important pieces of technology at U.S. Bank Stadium and what type of math shows up on the football field. Joseph noted geometry and the various angles used in kicking a field goal, Dobbs highlighted the physics of throwing a ball to a moving target and Day noted the force production he uses on the defensive line.

"We all have curiosity and intelligence – we all just choose different canvases to paint on," Adofo-Mensah said. "For Sheldon Day, his canvas is interior defensive line and pass rush, and for Greg it's field goals, and for Josh it's quarterback. For me, it might be an Excel spreadsheet or planning something. So I think that's just really the important thing to appreciate about everybody – we all have different canvases we paint on, and our players are no different."

The Vikings GM appreciated an opportunity to visit with youngsters who didn't shy away from their curiosity and questions.

"I can remember those days where my mom asked me what I learned at school, and she'd tell me, 'You're gonna use that stuff one day,' and I get to use it every day," he said. "I always want to make sure I tell kids, 'I don't know what you want to do with your life at your age, 10, you don't know that yet, but just learn as much as you can because it will take you places.'

"I truly want to show that passion [to] kids and inspire them to do what I was able to do and just apply what I learned every day, which is such a blessing," Adofo-Mensah added.

Chelsea Adofo-Mensah also enjoyed engaging with students, sharing her experience at Google and especially inspiring young women who have an interest in STEM fields.

"Being at a company like Google, working on a team like I do at YouTube TV, I work for a mother. And a lot of our executives at Google and YouTube are women," she said. "I'm surrounded by incredible women who are both engineers, they're product designers, they're UX researchers, they're back-end engineers, they're front-end engineers.

"It's a huge opportunity to have that, and I think the most important thing is little girls be able to know they do have a spot at the leadership table in all those different environments and rooms," Chelsea added.

Deer River Elementary teacher Thea Rendon, a mother of four daughters, also emphasized the importance of introducing young women to the opportunities available for them in fields that have historically been more male dominated.

Rendon noted the significance of a field trip that opened up new possibilities to her students, the majority of whom experience poverty and have never been out of Itasca County.

"To get here and have these kids see the city and see these big buildings, it's amazing. This is the gift that keeps on giving," Rendon said. "This field trip is amazing in and of itself, and they're getting to interact with players and hear about careers that they probably wouldn't otherwise hear about. It's amazing to see them so happy.

"I think it's really important to empower young women and girls and let them know they can do these jobs, too," Rendon continued. "I think it's really important for these kids to see, 'There are lots of women doing these things, you can do them too' and just expose them to the different careers that would be possible."

Day was all smiles at the shuttle run station, cheering students on as they raced against one another and watched their speed calculated on a large screen.

Day previously has hosted his own STEM event in his hometown of Indianapolis and embraced the chance to be involved in the Vikings Voyage field trip.

Everything about science, technology, engineering and math just excites me," Day explained. "As a little kid, I wanted to be an anesthesiologist. So anything with science, I'm all in. Seeing the kids learning physics and stuff like that, it's really inspiring to see the future generations.

"We're just like them. We were in their shoes at one point in time, and we just happen to play football now," added Day, who has an information technology degree from Notre Dame and has already launched his own business, The Players Company. "As we transition out of football, we'll have to go find those hobbies and interests again. So them seeing us do it, it probably interests them even more and gets their brains working. It's pretty cool that we can be their role models on and off the field."