Twenty-five sophomore students from high schools across Durham arrived at NIEHS Feb. 11 to gain a better understanding of environmental health issues and to talk with scientists at the institute. The visit was organized by Junior Leadership Durham, a nonprofit community-wide program designed to shape the future of high school students by promoting teamwork, developing leadership skills, and fostering self-confidence and personal growth.
Career insights and hands-on science
The students were welcomed by Ericka Reid, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity. The students also enjoyed career talks with Kristin Gabor, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Immunity, Inflammation, and Disease Laboratory; Chad Blystone, Ph.D., from the National Toxicology Program (NTP); and Robin Mackar, from the Office of Communications and Public Liaison. A theme that emerged from the talks was that career paths, which are seldom straight and narrow, benefit from close ties with mentors.
Darlene Dixon, D.V.M., Ph.D., head of the Molecular Pathogenesis Group, described her research to the students. Abee Boyles, Ph.D., and Georgia Hinkley, Ph.D., both from NTP, presented a hands-on discussion about nanoparticles and toxicology.
The students donned gloves to explore healthy and unhealthy pig lungs with Kathleen Azzam, Ph.D., of the Health and Safety Branch. From Joanne Damborsky, Ph.D., a trainee in the Neurobiology Laboratory, they learned about variations in lung capacity, vividly illustrated as each student blew through a straw into a bucket of water, to measure the amount of air in their lungs.
In their evaluations, participants described some of the insights they gained from the experience.
- “The environment affects us deeply.”
- “We should be concerned about the environment and what we put in it.”
- “…that I've chosen the right future career.”
- “Science is broad."
"I drove a student home who said this was the best session,” said Pamela Bivens-Pippin, coordinator of Junior Leadership Durham. “She [had] thought the Arts and Culture session was her favorite... But this one has turned out to be the best!"
"This is a very nice, productive partnership we've enjoyed for three years, and we look forward to what is now an annual visit," Reid said. "In fact, we've already reserved the conference room for 2017."
(John Schelp is the NIEHS Special Assistant for Community Engagement and Outreach.)