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NHGRI Intramural Short Course Alum Returns,
Finds Information 'Invaluable'

By April Thompson

NHGRI's annual Current Topics in Genetic Research Short Course, held recently at the Natcher Bldg., drew more than 27 university and college teachers from across the country, including a repeat visitor, for whom "summer school" is fun if the topic is DNA.

Elizabeth Staton, chair of the science and math department at Martin University in Indianapolis, a non-traditional, liberal arts and predominantly African-American university, first attended the NHGRI program, initiated 6 years ago, in 1998.

"The short course that year was invaluable to me," says Staton. "It gave us the most current information from some of the world's leading researchers. But the opportunity to be part of the course a second time was quite appealing."

Elizabeth Staton has taken the NHGRI short course twice.

The course, organized by NHGRI's Office of Science Education, is designed to give information on recent developments in genetics to biology teachers from historically black colleges and universities, predominantly Hispanic-American institutions and Native-American tribal colleges.

More than 15 NHGRI scientists and genetics professionals led hour-long workshops for the participants. Topics included bioinformatics, the Human Genome Project, genome mapping and sequencing, microarray technology, mouse models, single nucleotide polymorphism analysis, stem cell research, ethics, genetic counseling, mentorships, effective grantsmanship and diseases such as hereditary prostate cancer and sickle cell anemia.

"Our goal is to attract science teachers to NHGRI each summer and show them the latest technologies, let them learn about the latest research and update them on the Human Genome Project," says OSE Director Jeff Witherly.

"By the time the course is done, the instructors are ready to go back to their schools in the fall and incorporate what they have learned into their curricula. Our job is to excite them, so they can in turn excite their students to pursue a summer internship or career in genetics or biology," adds Witherly.

Because the course is so well attended, participants are asked to sit out for 1 year to allow new colleagues from the same or different institutions to participate.

Staton used the information she acquired from the 1998 course to develop an undergraduate genetic counseling program at Martin, complete with course syllabi and lab performance requirements. The curriculum follows guidelines from NHGRI and the National Society of Genetic Counselors. A professional team of certified genetic counselors, medical physicians and consultants from several collegiate institutions evaluated the course work.

"I was able to fully utilize what I learned because the course truly prepared me," says Staton. "I chose to participate again to further enhance my knowledge and ultimately, our curriculum."

Staton also has established several internships for Martin University students majoring in genetic counseling and molecular biology.

This year's short course included teachers from such institutions as Alabama A&M University; Bossier Parish Community College (Louisiana), Diné College (New Mexico) and Tuskegee University (Alabama).

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