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VCES Students Earn Top Honors in MN Zoo STEM Challenge!

VCES Students Earn Top Honors in MN Zoo STEM Challenge!

Apple Valley, Minn. – Students from Valley Crossing Elementary School were recognized for their STEM skills as winners of the 2021-22 ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge. The Minnesota Zoo’s award-winning program, presented by Flint Hills Resources, is a yearlong project that challenges elementary, middle and high school students from across Minnesota to develop solutions for real zoo-based scenarios. Students broaden their creativity, math, science and engineering skills throughout the program and share their ideas in a final presentation.

Teams from 46 schools participated in the challenge, including one from Hawaii. The Zoo selected the top projects to advance to the exhibition round. Student teams presented their projects to a panel of judges comprised of staff from the Zoo, engineers from Flint Hills Resources and other STEM professionals. The top three projects at the elementary, middle and high school levels were awarded at the ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge Exhibitions in March. Student teams were also awarded prizes for the conservation, innovation, teamwork and zookeeper categories.

This year, students were challenged to either develop a new wolf habitat expansion or an enrichment solution for the gray wolves at the zoo. Students were evaluated for their research skills, uniqueness of ideas, plans for implementing the solution and overall presentation.

A project by three students from Caroline Polifka’s class at Valley Crossing, Tide Omiwade, Kate Yang, and Aspen Lodermeier, earned the first place award for this year’s ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge. The three students completed a redesign of the new wolf expansion for their project. For a full list of winning projects, visit the ZOOMS Exhibition page.

“We are incredibly proud of the dedicated students and teachers who participated in this year’s ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge,” said John Frawley, Director of the Minnesota Zoo and President of the Minnesota Zoo Foundation. “The challenge fosters creativity, innovation, and critical thinking, and helps kids envision STEM careers that involve caring for animals and working to support wildlife conservation.”

The ZOOMS STEM Design Challenge is made possible by a partnership between the Minnesota Zoo and Flint Hills Resources, which started in 1989. The Minnesota Zoo recently received top honors from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for the ZOOMS education program.

“Real-world experience allows STEM learners to put their understanding into practice in a fun and engaging way. What better way to do that than through the lens of a world class zoo?” said Heather Rein, director of community affairs at Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery. “Flint Hills employs hundreds of local scientists and engineers, and we are passionate about sparking an interest in STEM at a young age. We thank the students, teachers and our partners at the Minnesota Zoo for another incredible year of STEM learning.”

About the Minnesota Zoo

The Minnesota Zoo is a year-round destination located in Apple Valley, just minutes south of Mall of America. Its mission is to connect people, animals and the natural world to save wildlife. The Minnesota Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and an institutional member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums. More information about the zoo is available at

About Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery

The Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery produces transportation fuels used throughout the Midwest, including most of Minnesota’s gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, as well as other products people rely on such as propane and asphalt. Located 17 miles southeast of Minneapolis, Pine Bend has a refining capacity of 375,000 barrels per day and is among the most efficient and safest oil refineries in the country. Flint Hills Resources directly and indirectly supports more than 4,000 Minnesota jobs and has invested nearly $1.7 billion in upgrades and improvements to its Minnesota facilities since 2010. With 1,000 full-time employees, the Flint Hills Resources Pine Bend refinery is one of the largest employers in Dakota County. More information about the Pine Bend refinery is available at