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ASUM preschoolers got to touch, smell and learn about local animal hides, owl pellets and scat replicas during the American Indian Heritage Day on the University of Montana's Oval on Friday. Student teacher, Kaitlyn Weis, top left, and SpectrUM outreach coordinator Seisin Eyer reveal to Cleo Stafford, 3, Korbin Maslin, 4, and Daisy Miller, 3, left to right, which animal skins they are touching.

The preschool kids from ASUM Child Care recoiled in a fit of giggles when wildlife biologist Kari Eneas held a selection of animal scat models out to them and asked what creature they could have come from.

Eneas, who works for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, was one of the presenters for SciNation, one of the organizations taking part in American Indian Heritage Day at the University of Montana on Friday.

Holly Truitt, director of SpectrUM, said the SciNation program is a collaboration between her organization and the tribes on the Flathead reservation to increase interest in science. Truitt said while SpectrUM conducts classroom-based learning and larger exhibitions at schools on the reservation, it’s more meaningful when kids are learning from experts in STEM fields that are local to them.

“The tribes are really interested in three areas for homegrown STEM: health science, environmental science and tech,” Truitt said. “They are really focused on the tech component because of the opportunities that exist on the reservation like S&K Technologies.”

The SciNation table set up on the Oval on Friday also had stations for the kids to touch a variety of animal furs, as well as compare their arm lengths to the wingspan of local birds.

Ruth Ann Swaney, one of the organizers of the American Indian Heritage Day activities, agreed with Truitt about the need for students to meet role models.

“For me, it’s the part of SciNation that is really important to start at this young level. It tells them I can go to college and I can be a wildlife biologist if that’s what I want to do,” said Swaney, who works as the Native American Natural Resource Program coordinator for the College of Forestry and Conservation.

Truitt said SciNation recently received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation that will pay to build and operate a “maker truck” that will travel between schools on the reservation.

“There will be 3-D printing and other tech avenues that will be mobile, and next to the high tech activities will be culturally-relevant content,” Truitt said.

The plan is to premiere the truck at next year’s Arlee Celebration in July.

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Crime reporter for the Missoulian.