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Environmental Factor, March 2013

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NIEHS hosts workshop for secondary school science educators

By Eddy Ball

Regina Williams

Williams was clearly gratified by the interest and enthusiasm of the latest group of educators taking advantage of continuing education programs offered by NCABR. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Ericka Reid, Ph.D.

As she began her overview of NIEHS and its mission, Reid welcomed workshop participants to the latest installment of the “R X for Science Literacy” series. “This is one of our special partnerships that we have with NCABR, and we always look forward to these teacher workshops,” she said. “We understand that they are very important, and we are very happy to have you with us.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Thanks to a long-standing partnership with the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research (NCABR), 27 educators were able to attend a free continuing education credit workshop Feb. 6 at NIEHS that was packed full of new information they could take back to schools throughout the state.

The full-day event was part of the NCABR “R X for Science Literacy” series. It was organized and hosted by the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED), represented by OSED Director Ericka Reid, Ph.D., and biologist Huei-Chen Lao, who is serving a detail appointment as K-12 Science Education and Outreach Coordinator. Six NIEHS scientists volunteered their time to make presentations related to the workshop theme, “Cancer and Cell Biology.”

In her opening remarks, NCABR Director of Programs Regina Williams welcomed attendees and described resources available through her organization’s website. She also acknowledged the importance of NIEHS science education outreach efforts.

“We are very grateful to the NIEHS for hosting us and partnering with us to bring this workshop to you,” she said. “It is free to you, but it’s not a free workshop. It’s funded by the generous support of NIEHS and it’s supported by the time and efforts given by the [NIEHS] volunteers.”

Learning to use the NIH curriculum guide

Following an introduction to resources available through several NIEHS programs, by Industrial Hygienist Sharon Beard, participants spent their morning in hands-on training on the use of the newly revised NIH Curriculum Supplement and online resources, presented by Program Administrator Mike Humble, Ph.D. The supplement contains five modules — The Faces of Cancer, Cancer and the Cell Cycle, Cancer as a Multistep Process, Evaluating Claims About Cancer, and Acting on Information About Cancer.

Humble, a former high school teacher, led the educators through student activities, and showed some of the videos and animations available as part of the NIH Curriculum Supplement. His quick wit kept his audience engaged, as he went over the sobering messages about cancer, such as “Cancer is a single disease [process] and a hundred diseases [of different tissues and with different treatments and prognoses].”

Cancer and cell biology research at NIEHS

The afternoon sessions of the workshop featured presentations about ongoing research at NIEHS by Veterinary Medicine Section Chief Terry Blankenship-Paris, D.V.M.; Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology Group postdoctoral fellows Ashley Godfrey, Ph.D., and Sara Harlid, Ph.D.; and Cell Adhesion Group staff scientist John Roberts, Ph.D.

Blankenship-Paris started off the afternoon with her presentation on “Human Use of Animals in Environmental Research.” After a short introduction, she led workshop participants on a tour of the Comparative Medicine Branch facilities.

Godfrey and Harlid examined two research questions currently being examined by their group — “Can microRNAs Predict Breast Cancer?” and “Can Early Exposure to DES Reprogram Women’s DNA?” For his part, Roberts explored strategies for preventing the spread of cancers throughout the body with his presentation on “How Cancer Cells Metastasize (and what can we do about it)?” As they explained, the answers to these questions can help further the NIEHS mission of preventing disease in the first place, by reducing exposures and controlling disease progression so that treatments are more likely to save or extend lives.

By completing the workshop, the teachers receive credit toward their continuing education requirements and certification.

Evelyn Lynge

Lynge, center, said she learned a great deal at the workshop (see text box), and also enjoyed plenty of laughs during Humble’s presentation. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Deb Gustafson

Davey County, N.C., teacher Deb Gustafson was representative of the majority of the participants — middle and high school teachers who took their training directly back to the classroom. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

John Roberts, Ph.D.

As the final presenter of the day, Roberts kept his audience on the edge of their seats with a suspenseful story about the search for a molecular pathway responsible for metastasis, the process that makes cancer a deadly disease. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Mike Humble, Ph.D.

Humble made sure workshop participants enjoyed the session on the NIH Curriculum Supplement Series, as he laced the presentation with his dry wit. He is an acknowledged master at delivering jokes with a straight face, but now and then even he can’t avoid giving away, with his mischievous smile, that a joke is coming up. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Valerie Vickers, Ph.D.

University of North Carolina at Greensboro education professor Valerie Vickers, Ph.D., said she attended the workshop for new ideas about how to better prepare young environmental science educators for today’s classroom. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Ashley Godfrey, Ph.D.

Godfrey led off the basic science segment of the program, which was designed to give attendees a taste of the leading-edge biomedical research underway at NIEHS. As Williams had told the teachers earlier, the information from the afternoon sessions might not be as practical as the NIH curriculum, but it would prove valuable. “We [also] want to enlighten your scientific side as an educated consumer and citizen,” Williams said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Take-home impressions of a day at NIEHS

Although the focus of NCABR is the teacher currently working in the secondary school science classroom, the workshops also attract former teachers getting ready to re-enter active teaching, teacher trainers, environmental and sustainability advocates, and representatives of community groups.

One such attendee at the “Cancer and Cell Biology” workshop was 69-year-old Evelyn Lynge, a retired geologist and substitute teacher who serves as vice president of the Onslow County (N.C.) Council for Women. Lynge’s group is concerned with the quality of education in Onslow County, as well as the quality of life there.

Lynge said the workshop addressed her concerns as an educator and a citizen interested in environmental health. Onslow County, like much of Eastern N.C., has poorer educational outcomes than more affluent parts of the state. It also faces the lingering effects of contaminated drinking water at its U.S. Marine Corps base, which contained known and suspected carcinogens for more than three decades, and of mold from flooding triggered by storms in April 2012.

“I loved the presentations,” said Lynge, who plans to present what she learned to others in Onslow County trying to improve science, technology, engineering, and math education there, including the county commissioner who sits on her board. “I’d also like to get more information about mold [part of Beard’s presentation], because of my own exposure at home.”

As workshop evaluations indicate, Lynge spoke for many participants when she concluded, “I thank the NCABR and NIEHS for sponsoring this [wonderful] workshop and giving me the chance to attend.”

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