A new grant from the Avangrid Foundation will support the Evolutions (EVO) after-school program at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, providing funding to sustain EVO’s activities during the museum’s upcoming temporary closure.
The Peabody’s EVO program offers academic support for New Haven and West Haven high school students. During the program, students study science and prepare for the college application process. Last week, Peabody received a three-year $125,000 grant from the Avangrid Foundation — the philanthropic arm of Avangrid, which is a national energy company.
“We are very appreciative of the partnership with Avangrid,” said Director of the Peabody David Skelly said. “It’s hard to find sponsors who can appreciate something that already exists and one of the things that has been great about Avangrid is that they understood how important and transformative this program is for the students that are involved in it.”
Funding from the Avangrid Foundation comes as EVO celebrates its 15-year anniversary. EVO is a free program for 120 public high school students in New Haven and West Haven. Participating students attend weekly afterschool classes that encourage scientific exploration and offer college prep to the high schoolers. EVO allows students to engage in hands-on activities, travel to local and regional colleges and universities and ultimately produce a public exhibition on a scientific topic of their choice.
According to EVO program director Andrea Motto, the students “provide the museum with valuable perspectives, ideas and talent that help to improve our exhibits, visitor experiences and policies.” The program also acts as a key binding agent between the scientific and local neighborhoods, helping solidify the connection between Yale and New Haven, according to the EVO website.
Maria Parente, coordinator for Community Programs in Science, said EVO is unique in its long-term impact on students.
“I interact with these students regularly and I know … it’s a special program, this flagship program that sees students every week potentially up to four years. That can be a really powerful influence on a student. They gain mentors, they gain knowledge, they gain a home,” said Parente.
The program gives students access to a strong scientific community for up to four years, with some students even returning to volunteer at the program after high school. The students receive opportunities for laboratory internships and eventually transition to Science Career Orientation and Readiness Program for Students, which includes paid work as museum interpreters who guide visitors through the galleries.
According to Motto, she worked with Peabody grant manager Sarah Morrill to assemble a grant proposal for the Avangrid Foundation. In addition, Motto and Morrill looked into whether or not EVO’s interests aligned with those of the foundation, according to Skelly.
According to the Foundation’s director Nicole Licata Grant ’98, the foundation looks to create sustainable communities, and it sees educational opportunities as a part of that wider goal. She noted that the EVO program is unique and that the foundation wanted to give it a “leg-up” as the program figures out its space for the next two years. Grant said supporting EVO is personal to her, because she grew up in New Haven and ventured to the Peabody as a child.
“I didn’t benefit from this program, but I benefited from many programs like it,” Grant said. “I personally believe it made a difference in my life. They got me excited about STEM and about college.”
The new grant is the second that the foundation has awarded to the Peabody to help fund the EVO program. Last year, the foundation awarded a grant to help fund the Science Career Orientation and Readiness Program for Students at the museum. In addition, the foundation is an annual funder of the Fiesta Latina, which is hosted by the Peabody, and has paid for the restoration of three of the North American dioramas on the third floor, according to Grant.
Motto said EVO will utilize the money from the foundation for a variety of program elements — including paying wages for program instructors and securing new classroom resources.
“I met my closest friends through this program, and we have created a community that everyone looks forward to coming to every week,” EVO student Adira Ahmad Rizal said.
After the museum’s at least two-year closure starting on June 30, 2020, the EVO program will have its own dedicated headquarters in the renovated museum.
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Correction, Oct. 12: A previous version of this article referred to both Andrea Motto and Nicole Licata Grant using he/him pronouns. In fact, both Motto and Grant use the pronouns she/her.