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Environmental Factor, July 2015

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Scholars Connect kicks off fourth year of boot camp

By Eddy Ball

Carri Murphy

Returning scholar Carri Murphy, a senior at North Carolina Central University, will continue her work for a second summer with lead researcher Mike Resnick, Ph.D., staff scientist Daniel Menendez Rendon, Ph.D., and biologist Joyce Snipe in the NIEHS Chromosome Stability Group. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Tobias Flow

Fellow North Carolina Central University senior Tobias Flow will receive mentoring from National Toxicology Program (NTP) toxicologist Michael Sanders, Ph.D., and postdoctoral fellow Gabriel Knudsen, Ph.D., as part of the Toxicology and Toxicokinetics Group headed by NIEHS and NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The NIEHS Scholars Connect Program (NSCP) welcomed five new recruits June 8 to its weeklong boot camp and orientation. Classroom sessions and hands-on training in scientific method and laboratory procedures marked the start of the fourth round of a yearlong immersion into scientific research experience for students at local universities and historically black universities and colleges.

NSCP is a program run by the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED), headed by Ericka Reid, Ph.D. OSED provides innovative training for teachers in K-16 science education, trains aspiring students from underrepresented populations, and engages minority students and communities throughout the U.S. (see text box).

The program is part of an institute-wide effort towards meeting the NIEHS strategic plan goal of increasing diversity among scientists in the environmental health sciences. Though relatively new, it has already served as the model for a new program of training grants announced earlier in June (see story).

Fine tuning a model for boosting success rates in science education

During the orientation, Reid and NSCP coordinator Erica Rogers, Ph.D., discussed details of the boot camp and the yearlong training program ahead.

“We are offering students the opportunity to learn more about their disciplines – you’re all STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] majors,” Reid explained, “and more specifically, the environmental health sciences, which is our focus.”

Reid shared a video of a 2013 TED talk by a pioneer in new approaches to scientific education, Freeman Hrabowski, Ph.D., president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

UMBC is the home of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which began in 1988, with generous support from philanthropists Robert and Jane Meyerhoff, to provide financial assistance, mentoring, advising, and research experience to African-American male undergraduate students committed to obtaining Ph.D. degrees in math, science, and engineering. Hrabowski was provost at UMBC when the Meyerhoffs offered to fund the program, and continued his award-winning work with the program when he was appointed president in 1992.

With the Meyerhoff Scholars Program as an inspiration, Reid oversaw creation of NSCP in 2010 with three broad aims to ensure greater success for students with diverse backgrounds.

  • Emphasize a high quality scientific research experience to engage students.
  • Offer career exploration activities to help students form goals based on realistic scenarios.
  • Provide a network of student support that includes multiple mentors, colleagues, fellow participants, and OSED staff.

NSCP can already boast of enviable outcomes, with former participants accepted into graduate programs at North Carolina A&T State University, North Carolina Central University, Campbell University, Liberty University, and Northwestern University. Last year’s winner of the first NSCP Outstanding Scholar Award, Carri Murphy, was invited to return for a second summer to work in her mentor’s lab prior to her graduation this December from North Carolina Central University.

(Eddy Ball, Ph.D., is a contract writer with the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

  • Porscha Walton

    Porscha Walton, a senior at St. Augustine’s University, will spend her year as an NSCP participant working with the NTP Office of Health Assessment and Translation headed by Kris Thayer, Ph.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Maura Schwartz

    Assigned to the NIEHS Clinical Research Unit, North Carolina State University junior Maura Schwartz will conduct her project under the direction of associate medical director Shepherd Schurman, M.D. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Alanna Burwell

    Also a senior at North Carolina Central University, Alanna Burwell joins the NTP Molecular Pathogenesis Group, working with group leader Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D., and biologist Linda Yu. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Lucas Van Gorder

    Lucas Van Gorder, a junior majoring in genetics at North Carolina State University, will join Chip Romero, Ph.D., and Negin Martin, Ph.D., in the Neurobiology Laboratory Viral Vector Core. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Students

    While most of the workshop involves hands-on and small group instruction in the lab, the students spent a few hours in a more traditional classroom setting. Shown, from left, are Burwell, Walton, and Schwartz. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Yu and Hitchcock-Smith

    At the bench, volunteers gave generously of their time to introduce students to techniques, such gel electrophoresis, that they will be using for their projects. Shown, left to right, are NTP mentor Yu and Molecular Genetics Laboratory technician Joetta Hitchcock-Smith. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Erica Rodgers

    Rogers lined up mentor assignments for the students and volunteer instructors for the boot camp. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Ericka Reid

    Reid joined Rogers for the classroom component of the boot camp training. OSED’s intensive mentoring model and stipend support helped inspire a new extramural grant program to increase diversity in the biomedical workforce. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS reaches out to help STEM students pass the torch

By Geoffrey Feld

In addition to bringing students to NIEHS, OSED reaches out to local schools to support science education. At Athens Drive High School in Raleigh, North Carolina, seniors in Shane Barry’s advanced science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) class concluded their capstone research projects (see story) May 18-29 with detailed presentations. In April, the groups working on the capstone projects selected three volunteers from NIEHS — fellow Geoffrey Feld, Ph.D.; and contractors Kenda Freeman and Sara Mishamandani — to serve as mentors, who collaborated with their groups and attended the presentations.

Barry encouraged audience members to ask questions throughout the talks, and he questioned the students in the Socratic method, to encourage critical thinking. The resulting presentations delved deeper into the projects than PowerPoint slides alone could have achieved. Barry explained that this approach helps groom students for STEM career paths, where venture capitalists and regulators may question them in a similar manner.

The students showed themselves to be quick-thinkers who have become experts on particular aspects of their research. Barry invited fellow teacher Megan Myers to bring her freshman English class to the presentation on hydraulic fracturing and water safety. The younger audience members, who may also conduct capstone projects of their own in a few years, tested the seniors’ knowledge with informed questions on the topic. The team proposed a practical solution to water problems caused by fracking, involving reasonable upgrades to local water treatment plants to handle the possible introduction of fracking-derived 1,4-dioxane.

(Geoffrey Feld, Ph.D., is an Intramural Research Training Award fellow in the NIEHS Genome Stability Structural Biology Group.)

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