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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

August 2016

Teachers and students benefit from NIEHS summer programs

NIEHS was busy with teachers and students in July, thanks to programs to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math education.

The halls of NIEHS buzzed with teachers and students in July, thanks to institute programs to enhance science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education.

For the third year, North Carolina teachers participated in the two-week NIEHS Science, Teachers, and Research Summer Institute (STaRS). In addition, two groups of Wake County teachers spent a day at the institute through the Wake Education Partnership SummerSTEM professional development experience.

Students are spending the summer gaining laboratory experience through the NIEHS Scholars Connect program (NSCP) for undergraduates, and the National Institutes of Health Summer Internship Program for high school and college students.

Strategic planning for a diverse scientific workforce

The programs align with NIEHS strategic plan goals of building a diverse scientific workforce and strengthening science education. Ericka Reid, Ph.D., director of the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED), which sponsored the efforts, pointed out that diversity refers to scientific specialties as well as racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“You’ll meet scientists from various walks of STEM education — not only biology and chemistry, but also epidemiology, toxicology, neuroscience, and the list goes on,” Reid said during the STaRS program. “Med school is not the only option if you’re good in science.”

Teachers gain insights to current research

Huei-Chen Lao, from OSED, coordinates STaRS, which is co-sponsored with North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research (NCABR). “I work with the lab presenters so they understand problem-based learning and the Next Generation Science Standards, two important practices in science education,” she said. The program concluded with teachers presenting lesson plans they had developed, inspired by what they learned.

The teachers gave glowing reviews again this year. “I realized there were at least 50 people involved in sharing with us, teaching us, helping us. I call this generosity and I know it is rare, and for this, I humbly thank you,” wrote Mirela Risden, who teaches at Nash Rocky Mount Early College High School.

Scientists from twelve research groups offered lab rotation opportunities to the Wake County teachers. Each teacher rotated through two different labs where researchers demonstrated their work and offered hands-on experiences. In one, Bart Phillips, Ph.D., a trainee in the lab of Traci Hall, Ph.D., was asked about the impact of his research. He seized the opportunity to explain the larger implications for the fields of fertility and chemotherapy.

For all teachers, labs were complemented by presentations on NIEHS programs. A Wake County teacher reflected on the environmental justice session. “Now I realize how connected it is to issues [the kids] will be concerned with. I can make it personal for them.” Others applauded the excellent care of research animals that they observed and said it would change the nature of their classroom discussions.

Students gain practical research experience

NSCP, coordinated by Reid, is hosting three scholars this year, for a paid internship that allows the students to continue their lab work part-time during the school year. Debbie Wilson, from the Division of Intramural Research, coordinates the more than 40 summer interns from high schools and colleges.

Both NSCP scholars and interns designed and conducted experiments, then analyzed and interpreted the data. In the midst of that work, they attended seminars, gave scientific presentations, and prepared and explained posters of their projects.

Fourteen students accepted a challenge to present their research July 22 as part of the popular Big Picture, Small Talk series. They gave impressive plain-language summaries of their work, many without using notes. Their poise, enthusiasm, and sharp minds posed a challenge for the panel of volunteer judges, who arrived at a three-way tie for the winning talk (see photo).

Gratitude for a job well done

Reid, Lao, and Wilson each thanked those from across the institute who took time from their regular duties to participate in the summer programs. Participants also expressed deep appreciation.

“I am so overwhelmed with the amount of support you have given to a teacher,” said Leslie Schoof, from Madison Early College High School in Mars Hill, North Carolina.


Suzanne Wilkison Suzanne Wilkison, NCABR president, informed participants of the extensive resources and workshops available to them, particularly the annual Bridging the Gap conference for STEM educators. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Natasha Clayton Natasha Clayton, left, worked with teachers in the pathology lab. “You made us think,” said Glasher Shealey, second from left, from Middle College at Guilford Technical Community College High Point, of Clayton. Kyathanahalli Janardhan, Ph.D., center, is a contractor in the Cellular and Molecular Pathology Branch. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Gabriel Ruiz “It’s nice to apply what I’ve been learning to something real, something besides the problems in textbooks,” said Gabriel Ruiz, from the University of California Riverside, who discussed his work with Dmitry Zaykin, Ph.D., in the Biostatistics and Computational Biology Branch. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Marcia Moore-Lyons “This program reignited my love of science and teaching science,” said STaRS participant Marcia Moore-Lyons from Middle College at Bennett. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Miranda Bernhardt Led by trainee Miranda Berhnhardt, Ph.D., left, Wake County teachers used an inverted microscope and micromanipulators to inject fluorescent dye into immature egg cells from mice. They also observed making an injection needle by heating and pulling a glass capillary to a point about one micrometer in size. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Bart Phillips Phillips, left, and Wake County teachers prepared and stained a DNA gel, to see it under ultraviolet light, in a machine called a transilluminator. Some experiments worked, whereas others did not. He pointed out that the mixed results provided a perfect example of science experiments, and the process of critical thinking and trouble-shooting. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Charles Patton This was the second STaRS experience for Charles Patton, from Rowan County Early College in Salisbury. He described his plan for a presentation to county leaders to develop a biotech partnership. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Group photo “You have organized an amazing workshop that has the potential to have a huge effect on the students and teachers in North Carolina,” wrote a STaRS participant. They were unanimous in their appreciation of the chance to be students and their praise for all the effort by the leaders, many of whom posed with them. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Scholars new and returning

Participants in NIEHS Scholars Connect Program this year include one student returning from last year.

Jaisal Amin, a senior studying genetics at North Carolina State University (NCSU), is mentored by Natale Sciolino, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Developmental Neurobiology Group, led by Patricia Jensen, Ph.D.

Allison Lewis, a junior studying pharmaceutical science at North Carolina Central University (NCCU), is mentored by Negin Martin, Ph.D., acting director of the Viral Vector Core Laboratory.

Maura Schwartz is a senior studying genetics at NCCU, working under the mentorship of Shepherd Schurman, M.D., associate medical director of the NIEHS Clinical Research Unit (CRU). This is her second year in the scholars program.

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