Tazel Institute founder Leon Tazel, left, poses with wildlife biologist Jeramie Strickland.
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A local program is giving African-American males in District 196 unique opportunities to explore careers in fields from law enforcement and criminal justice to marketing and wildlife conservation. The Tazel Institute initiative provides students positive exposures to black males in leadership roles.

Founder Leon Tazel started his namesake institute five years ago and launched the program in 2015. It has continued to grow and now includes students from all four District 196 high schools and two high schools in Saint Paul Public Schools.

“It’s really about exposing them to careers that they may never think of doing,” Tazel said. “The key is having an African-American man out front to tell his story of how he got where he is. From there, the kids seem to grab onto this. This is our recipe for success.”

Tazel has made numerous connections with businesses and organizations around the state, providing students with a myriad of career paths to consider. Since the start of the school year, students visited Winona State University, Hennepin Health Care, Nexstar, and most recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Twin Cities Ecological Services Field Office in Bloomington.

In October, about a dozen District 196 students joined peers from other schools to hear from wildlife biologist Jeramie Strickland. A native of Chicago, Strickland said his middle school counselor encouraged him to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) courses. Strickland said he realized he had a knack for these subjects and would go on to win the school district and county science fairs. He developed his skills at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, eventually earning a master’s degree.

“Meeting these people and hearing their stories, it creates a tangible reality for our students,” said Will Finley, Rosemount High School student assistant coordinator. “It makes it more real for them when they see the success that comes from hard work, commitment, sacrifice and making good choices.”

Next up for the program are visits to Mitchell Hamline School of Law and the Washington County Attorney’s Office. Tazel said he envisions the program having a physical space to allow more students to benefit from “these informal life lessons.”

“We are about educating and enriching the experiences of our future leaders through exposure,” Tazel said. “And when you combine the formal and the informal you’re going to get the best well-rounded education. That’s when it becomes more relevant.”

See more photos from the visit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Twin Cities Ecological Services Field Office

U.S. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife visit

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