U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar traveled through a life-sized artery Saturday afternoon, before taking a look at the Milky Way Galaxy from miles above Earth.

She did so wearing 3D glasses, without leaving the basement of the ISELF building at St. Cloud State University.

The immersive visualization and simulation lab was part of her tour of the Integrated Science and Engineering Laboratory Facility. She was on campus to hear how the university would use a $5 million National Science Foundation grant awarded this year to help local students.

The ACCESS STEM grant aims to help St. Cloud State recruit, retain and support sciences in science, technology, engineering and math disciplines. It will be distributed over five years. The grant uses research-based support services to retain first-year students and help students from community colleges transition into a four-year university.

Through different legislation and groups, Klobuchar has supported STEM education and more inclusion of diverse groups into STEM fields.

At St. Cloud State, Klobuchar saw a few projects in progress, including a clean room where students were fabricating nanotechnology and a lab where students developed computer systems. Then Klobuchar heard from students, faculty and community partners on how the grant can help everyone involved.

Grant money can be used for basic living expenses, so an engineering student can spend her time in the lab doing research, instead of working a part-time retail job to pay the bills. Staff estimates it will help up to 100 students over five years.

Two local companies said a large number of their employees have St. Cloud State ties. One-third of all GeoComm employees and half of management have SCSU diplomas, said John Bryant, president and CEO of GeoComm, Inc.

At Microbiologics, more than one-third of all their employees are from St. Cloud State, said Brad Goskowicz, CEO of Microbiologics.

Bryant said partnerships with St. Cloud State are paying off.

"The projects that we have done with SCSU have really positioned us well in the industry," Bryant said. Currently, GeoComm is working with St. Cloud State on a project to improve mapping of indoor locations. It's being used at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis to get ready for the Super Bowl, he said.

"That would not have happened without that partnership," Bryant said.

Goskowicz said he loves having a river of talent close right out his front door.

"What I like about St. Cloud State students, versus other ones we get from other places ... they actually come ready to work," Goskowicz said, because of the focus on experiential learning.

"Sometimes there's a long on-boarding process. It takes three months to really learn the system," he said. But on the market today is a retail product developed by a St. Cloud State intern who started three months ago.

"I think it's going to get a little more diversity within those STEM folks," Goskowicz said. "It can be a challenge getting diversity into your organization. I think this will help."

All of this is key to Central Minnesota's economy said, Patti Gartland, president of The Greater St.Cloud Development Corporation. Data from the Department of Employment and Economic Development indicates there are 1,000 STEM-related jobs open right now in Central Minnesota, she said.

"Anything we can be doing to help those students while they're here, Gartland said, "to get introduced and build relationships with our local employers is certainly in our best interest."