From stems to STEM: Foundation grants help students explore the world

Todd Francis enjoyed exploring all types of science questions in Lincoln when he attended Southeast High School in the 1980s.
His legacy is living on through a grant program that has been a springboard for many future scientists.
The Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools and the LPS Science Focus Program (SFP) have announced recipients of the 2024 Todd Francis Creative Research Grants. SFP students make up the majority of applicants each year, but students from any middle or high school are eligible to submit proposals. The awards have supported more than 200 students in grades 6-12 since 1991.
SFP students Henry Cline and Spencer Krenk said they were grateful to be chosen this year. They each received awards for their project entitled “How Urbanization Affects Biodiversity in Plant Populations.”

The two juniors are mapping the biodiversity of plants found in Holmes Lake Park, Irvingdale Park and Peterson Park. They are comparing those results to Nine-Mile Prairie, which features 230 acres of pristine tallgrass prairie northwest of Lincoln.
“We were very glad, because it was a very expensive project,” Cline said.

The students are using the Francis grants awarded by the Foundation to access DNA sequencing technology. The DNA of each plant provides identifying information, much like a bar code pinpoints a specific product in a store. Cline and Krenk will study the “bar codes' of each urbanized plant and see if there are any positive or negative differences with the Nine-Mile Prairie plants. They will then present their findings to city and state officials.
“It was a relief to get the grants,” Krenk said. “If we hadn’t have gotten the money, we would have had to switch to a different project, which at that point, we had already collected our samples and done a lot of background research, and that would have been kind of a nightmare. So it was definitely a lot of relief.”
The Foundation Operations Coordinator Cassidy Mayer said the awards have been instrumental in helping students achieve their dreams. Chuck and Barb Francis established the grant program to ensure their son’s passion for science would continue at LPS. The Foundation works with the Francis family and LPS science specialists to provide up to $2,500 each year.
“Witnessing the impact of scholarships like these and their impact on students reminds me of how powerful education is and how important it is for us to continue advocating for students,” Mayer said. “These scholarships not only help alleviate financial burdens but also serve as validation for students who may face challenges along their academic journey. These scholarships aren’t only about financial assistance – they empower individuals to realize their fullest potential.”
Emily Seifferlein teaches a variety of science courses at the SFP. She said former and current students have gained a great deal from becoming grant recipients.
“It really varies the types of projects that students can pursue,” Seifferlein said. “The additional funding gives them the opportunity to buy equipment or supplies that might have been out of range before.”
SFP senior Hyrum Moody had a similar amount of thankfulness after receiving a Francis award last year. He bought a sky quality meter for “Chasing the Fading Night: Mapping Light Pollution and Skyglow in Lincoln, Nebraska.” He said the grant has already paid major dividends for his future.
“Not too long from now I’ll be fortunate to go to Denver to present the project at a national conference, and the only way I was able to have that opportunity was because of the grant,” Moody said. “If I hadn’t received the grant, I wouldn’t have been able to buy that equipment, and the project wouldn’t have worked out.”

Scientists use the term “skyglow” to illustrate how light pollution affects the brightness of the night sky in a city. Moody used the sky quality meter to measure skyglow in many parts of Lincoln. He discovered that skyglow levels remained high even when he approached the edges of the city limits.
Moody won a state medal in the 2023 Nebraska Junior Academy of Sciences State Science Fair for his project. He will share his research at the National Science Teaching Association’s National Conference on Science Education March 20-23.
Moody said the Francis grants provide a positive lesson to future scientists, entrepreneurs and researchers across LPS.
“In the future I know that sometimes I’ll need money for research, and it’s not always easy to get,” Moody said. “I really appreciate getting this grant in high school, because it’s taught me a lot about the importance of grants for science.”

The Francis Creative Research Grants are one of many scholarships available through the Foundation for LPS. You can visit the website at for more information about applying or donating to the list of awards.

To learn more about the Science Focus Program or apply for the 2024-2025 school year, visit

2024 Todd Francis Creative Research Grants Recipients
* Henry Cline and Spencer Krenk (Science Focus Program): “How Urbanization Affects Biodiversity in Plant Populations”
* Cadence Carlson (Southeast High School): “Evolving Yeast to Metabolize Alternative Carbon Sources”
* Lily Ardinger Stibal (Science Focus Program): “Analysis of Stream Health Five Years After Removal From Impaired Waters List: Judging Physical, Biological and Chemical Primers”

2023 Todd Francis Creative Research Grants Recipients
* Elin Larsen (Science Focus Program): “Testing Soil Samples For DNA Traces Left By a Decomposing Pig Carcass”
* Hyrum Moody (Science Focus Program): “Mapping Light Pollution In and Around Lincoln, Nebraska”
* Iris Bumgarner (Southeast High School): “What Conditions of Wetland Ecosystems During the Winter Season In Lancaster County, Nebraska, Make Them Susceptible to Takeover By Invasive Plant Species?”
* Devadarshan Pushkaran (Southeast High School): “What Materials Are Best Suited For Transporting Sensitive Medical Supplies Via Unmanned Aerial Vehicles?”

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Published: February 19, 2024, Updated: February 20, 2024

From left, Henry Cline and Spencer Krenk smile at the Science Focus Program building. They earned a grant from the Foundation for Lincoln Public Schools that helped them complete their scientific project. They used the money to access DNA sequencing technology for plants in several Lincoln parks.