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Environmental Factor, August 2015

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NIEHS opens doors for area teachers

By Kelly Lenox

HueiChen lao

At the closing session, participants were unanimous in their accolades for the hard work and high spirits Lao displayed throughout the program. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Sellers and cook

Sellers was coached on DNA extraction by Molly Cook, left, of the Protein Expression Core Laboratory. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

John Eaton

Eaton expressed his appreciation for the personnel involved in the program. “The enthusiasm and passion that everyone here [at NIEHS] has for their job is top-notch,” he said. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

On the morning of July 6, an energetic group of North Carolina public school teachers arrived at NIEHS for the two-week Science, Teachers, and Research Summer (STaRS) Institute.

Building on last year’s expansion (see story), the nine teachers took part in hands-on laboratory research, science talks, facility tours, and discussion sessions. Huei-Chen Lao, K-12 science education and outreach coordinator for the NIEHS Office of Scientific Education and Diversity (OSED), coordinated the program.

Calling on all corners of the institute

The number of staff who volunteered to work with the participants demonstrates the widespread support STaRS has across the institute. “This year, we had 36 volunteers,” Lao said, “from postdocs and contractors, on up to lead researchers and the director. And some are already signing up for next year.”

That breadth was on display during the “Ask a Scientist” panel discussion, where five scientists representing a variety of the jobs performed at NIEHS explained their work and answered questions.

“Our target population is first-generation college students,” said John Eaton, who teaches at Wake Early College of Heath and Sciences. “[Now] I can demonstrate that careers in the health sciences extend beyond the walls of the hospital.”

The panel was also attended by another group of teachers, who spent the day at the institute as part of the SummerSTEM workshop organized by WakeEd Partnership (see text box).

Understanding the whole pipeline

This year, Lao added a visit to nearby Biogen to the schedule. Visiting the pharmaceutical company gave participants another perspective on biomedical research.

“We are able to take all of the pieces of the biotech product pipeline and put them together, from basic research to what happens in a major pharmaceutical company,” said Mariel Barker Sellers, from East Columbus High School in Columbus County. “We will be able to present it to our students much more effectively.”

“It was the ideal classroom for any teacher. The set up they have there is fantastic,” said Anna Densmore, a teacher at Washington High School in Beaufort County. Referring to their lab work at Biogen, she added, “It will be the perfect introduction to bacterial transformation.”

From labs to classrooms to careers

Presented in cooperation with North Carolina New Schools (NCNS), the professional development opportunity aims to enhance high school science teachers’ understanding of basic biomedical research. The teachers created lesson plans and classroom projects based on what they learned and presented them on the last day, demonstrating how they will translate their experiences into practice.

“The real world exposure to different types of issues, equipment, processes — all the things they bring back to the classroom will enhance their students’ understanding,” said Jason Kessler, community development coordinator for NCNS.

Broadening students’ understanding is one outcome that Ericka Reid, Ph.D., director of OSED, had hoped for. “Science education is built into our strategic plan,” she said while welcoming the teachers on their first day. “Enhancing the teaching of environmental health sciences — goal eight — is why you are here.”

Reid also referred to goal nine, which focuses on diversity and developing a well-trained cadre of scientists. “Diversity is not just racial and ethnic,” she said, “but also [includes] a diversity of sciences, so that we can ask more of the right questions [in our research].”

  • Jacob Daeffler

    Jacob Daeffler, from South Creek High School in Martin County, expressed the enjoyment felt by participants for the laboratory experiences — from learning how to use a pipette to better understanding the processes that lead to scientific advances. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Ariel Darden and Jennifer Hulsey

    Ariel Darden, from Weldon High School in Halifax County, and Jennifer Hulsey, from Overhills High School in Harnett County, worked together on protein quantification. Practical lessons were complemented by time spent with scientists. Thanking Ron Cannon, Ph.D., of the Intracellular Regulation Group, Hulsey said, “I can tell the passion that you have, when you hung out with us and just gave us time to talk. That’s what it’s all about.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Bob Petrovich

    Like last year, Bob Petrovich, Ph.D., head of the Protein Expression Core Laboratory, played an integral part in the program, by teaching lab techniques, giving lectures, being on hand to discuss research, and answering questions about the institute. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Casey Balio

    Casey Balio, who teaches at Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences in Mecklenburg County, described the biotech project she and her group designed, based on their experiences in the STaRS program. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Densmore and Tom Tomison

    Densmore, left, and Tom Tomison of Wake County’s Vernon Malone College and Career Academy, quantified protein using a color-based analysis. A later pathology lab included slide preparation. “We order slides for our students, and we don’t have the opportunity to see how those slides are actually made,” Densmore said. “And we got to keep these slides, so I can use them with my students.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Ken Schaffer

    Ken Schaffer, from Wilson Early College Academy in Wilson County, plans to use many of the materials he found on the NIEHS website, from lists of papers on environmental health topics to public awareness posters. “I will also use the PowerPoint on environmental justice,” he said, because his students in Wilson would find that relevant. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

  • Kessler, Reid, Lao, Cannon and Petrovich

    The teachers posed with some of those who helped make the program possible, including, from right, Kessler, Reid, Lao, Cannon, in blue shirt, and Petrovich, third from left. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Partnership with Wake County

On July 15 and 16, NIEHS welcomed 24 teachers from Wake County, North Carolina, to the institute. The teachers were part of the WakeEd Partnership SummerSTEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) program, which coordinated immersion experiences for teachers. Six local STEM-related institutions were included year, including NIEHS, Red Hat, SAS, Biogen, LORD Corporation, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Two groups of about a dozen teachers each came for a full day. They learned about mass spectrometry from Jason Williams, Ph.D., and visited the NIEHS Fluorescence Microscopy and Imaging Center, where Jeff Tucker explained the power of the tool for biological research. The groups toured other areas of the institute and heard talks, ranging from humane treatment of research animals to the Ask a Scientist session, which exposed them to the broad range of roles performed by institute scientists.

“SummerSTEM exists to enrich each educator’s understanding of the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in careers involving science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM),” read the WakeEd press release .

“By working with teachers, we can have a greater impact on more students,” Lao said. “We’re already looking forward to next year.”

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