Mo. high school gets $100,000 grant to build biodiesel center

After a year-and-a-half's worth of efforts, Rockwood Summit High School has received a $100,000 grant from Monsanto to build its new biodiesel production and education center on campus
By Ron Kotrba | February 19, 2014

In October 2012 I wrote an article about how Rockwood Summit High School in Fenton, Mo., was seeking funds to build a new biodiesel production and education center on campus. After using a small, dedicated space in a storage shed with a crude processor and limited functionality, efforts—led by chemistry teacher Darrin Peters—began to take shape. The kids were even selling raffle tickets to raise funds. Now, more than a year later, Monsanto has granted the school $100,000 to build what will be called the Monsanto Education Center for Sustainable Solutions. “Sometimes, dreams come true!” said Peters. “We believe the Monsanto Education Center for Sustainable Solutions will be one of the most successful ways to keep kids involved in math and science and develop them into lifelong critical thinkers and learners. We can’t wait to get started!” 

The center will be housed in a new building constructed on Rockwood Summit’s campus and will include an area where students and advisors can plant row crops to study how plants such as corn and soybeans produce a renewable source of fuel.

“The center will educate the community on the potential of renewable fuel, stimulate academic achievement in science and math,” explained Rockwood Summit chemistry teacher Tracie Summerville, “and encourage the development of more students pursuing math and science-related careers.” 

The Monsanto Education Center for Sustainable Solutions will serve as a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) educational resource for teachers and students in the St. Louis community who want to experience hands-on, project-based learning on the fundamentals of biofuels, specifically biodiesel. 

For the past four years, the RSHS biodiesel project has become a leading program for K-12 STEM in the St. Louis region. Student work includes executing experim‚Äčents to convert waste vegetable oil into biodiesel and designing methods to test biodiesel quality.

They also determine the fuel’s energy content for comparison to petroleum diesel and test horsepower and torque of school-owned vehicles running on the fuel. The new Monsanto Education Center for Sustainable Solutions will allow enhancement of this study and provide thousands of students from all around the metropolitan St. Louis area access to its science knowledge and understanding.

“The amazing things Rockwood Summit students are accomplishing here do more than advance their personal growth in math and science,” said Deborah Patterson, Monsanto’s vice president of employee engagement and global contributions, who presented school officials with the $100,000 grant. “They help all of us understand the importance of sustainability. We, as well as future generations, will all benefit from the passion these students have to make a difference and what they will continue to achieve through their study at the new Monsanto Education Center for Sustainable Solutions.” 

“We are incredibly thankful that Monsanto has given our school the opportunity to expand the renewable fuel project,” said RSHS junior Lydia Fletcher. “We are looking forward to improving our community with the education we provide with our new learning center.”  

The Missouri Soybean Association is also contributing an additional $6,500 for educational supplies needed to operate the center. “The Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council is encouraged by Rockwood Summit High School’s Biodiesel Club,” said MSMC chairman and soybean farmer Will Spargo. “Their innovative idea will benefit not only their group and community today, but also future generations. Knowing young people are actively involved in this pursuit provides a promising future for renewable fuels and for soybean farmers in this state. The MSMC understands and values education. We are thrilled these students and their instructors understand the importance of biodiesel, a domestically produced renewable fuel, and the role it can play in promoting math and science-related careers.” 

The Ethanol Committee from the National Corn Growers Association has pledged $5,000 to the effort. In addition, Rockwood would like to thank the local business community for their continued support of this educational initiative for the students at Rockwood Summit High School. ‚Äč

Congratulations Rockwood Summit High School, and keep us posted on your developments!