Community Development Partnerships

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The Link: A Collective-Impact, Place-Based Approach to Inspiring Montana’s Next-Generation Healthcare Work Force

Led by the City of Missoula, the LINK, is a collective that includes Missoula Public Library, University of Montana, and Flathead Reservation tribal partners and is devoted to building inclusive on-ramps to STEM education and career pathways that align with the unique needs of the Missoula community and Flathead Reservation students. Together with our community, the LINK is creating a dynamic health-science learning hub in the Missoula Public Library awarded Best Public Library in the World 2022 by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and whose collective Nordic design and practices was led by the LINK’s Holly Truitt. Funded by an award of $1.3 million dollars from the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program of the National Institutes Health, Missoula is the first city in the nation to receive a SEPA grant.

Led by Principal Investigator Holly Truitt (City of Missoula) owner of Holly Truitt Consultant and lecturer on community driven design for Stanford, Co-Investigator Dr. Rachel Severson (University of Montana), Co-Investigator William Swaney (former tribal educator and educational design for Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), and Project Manager and Staff Scientist, Dr. Amanda Duley (City of Missoula), the project team’s co-creation process gives voice to often marginalized and underserved communities and allows projects to gain community acceptance from the outset. Of, for, and by the community, the LINK has engaged over 300 local youth, tribal members, persons with disabilities, artists, and scientists to design the health sciences hub and programming. 

Designed with our community, the LINK collective is creating:

 -a one-of-a-kind DNA Playground Exhibition, housed in our public library, that explores the DNA of Self and Place that includes a two story DNA climber and DNA of Missoula mural that integrates health science as well as tribal ways of knowing and language. An animal ribs climber with organ pillows for early learners and a Salish tule tipi that provides a book reading nook complement the space. The exhibition also contains signage with native and non-native scientist stories. 

-a world-class UM Living Lab embedded on the 1st floor of the library that provides a space to reach and engage early learners as participants in ongoing UM behavioral research while positively engaging the public, children, and their families with STEM, research, STEM role models, and minds-on activities related to DNA, neuroscience, and psychology.

-Mipnunum k̓ itki·kȼiǂ high school research program that was co-designed to advance Health Science Education and Career Pathways for Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal youth. Mipnunum k̓ itki·kȼiǂ  links the Salish and Kootenai words for: figure out and succeed in understanding. Approved by Tribal Council, co-created with tribal leaders and youth and rich with native STEM and cultural role models, the 15-week project allowed over 30 tribal students to research and experiment at the intersection of health science and traditional knowledge. 

LINK collective partners include: spectrUM Discovery Area, Missoula Parks and Recreation, 5210 Let's Move! Missoula, Families First Learning Lab, MCAT (Missoula Community Access Television), Summit Independent Living, Process Curiosity, and the National Living Laboratory using funding from the National Science Foundation

The project team has a long history of working on collaborative projects for social change. Missoula Public LIbrary’s All Under One Roof integration of collective Nordic practices and design - the first of its kind in the nation was led and researched by Truitt, “Kwul ’I’tkin Maker Truck” – a mobile maker space designed with community tribal members that travels throughout the tribal community that uses culturally relevant materials to teach making was led by Truitt and Swaney, international award winning project EmPower Place, a family learning center embedded in the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center that is one part science museum, one part free meal site, and one part library was led by Truitt and Duley, and NIH-SEPA funded Big Sky Brain Project bringing neuroscience education to Missoula and the larger western Montana community was led by Truitt and Duley.

Science Education Partnership Award (

Holly Headshot

Project Contacts

Holly Truitt, Principle Investigator

The project described is funded by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) grant, Grant Number 1R25GM132950-01 from the National Institutes of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), National Institutes of Health (NIH).   Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIGMS or NIH.