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Vol. LXVI, No. 22
October 24, 2014
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Teachers Rate NIEHS Summer Institute An A+

For 2 weeks this past summer, 11 North Carolina high school teachers turned the tables and became students, as part of the expanded NIEHS Science, Teachers and Research Summer (STaRS) Institute. The teachers’ evaluations have been compiled and NIEHS earned excellent marks. “STaRS represents the future of science education,” said one educator.

“Like a lot of us, I’m really turned on by epigenetics and how far the field has gotten. It’s exciting and adds a lot to biology,” said Thomas Venetta of Vance County Early College High School. “We’ve had some discussion of great ways to introduce epigenetics in the classroom.”

“Like a lot of us, I’m really turned on by epigenetics and how far the field has gotten. It’s exciting and adds a lot to biology,” said Thomas Venetta of Vance County Early College High School. “We’ve had some discussion of great ways to introduce epigenetics in the classroom.”

Photos: Steve McCaw

Based on teachers’ interests and curriculum needs, the syllabus was developed by collaborators from a cross-section of NIEHS, including the Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED), the Protein Expression Core Facility and several laboratories. Participants learned basic biomedical research techniques, toured the labs and clinical research unit, received an overview on environmental health from NIEHS and NTP director Dr. Linda Birnbaum and heard lectures from postdocs on everything from epigenetics to bioinformatics.

Each of the program elements garnered praise. “The lab activities, the lectures and the facility tours helped me to understand the complexity of the research and all the parts that make a good study,” said a participant.

Offered in collaboration with North Carolina New Schools, the program evolved from an earlier externship to the present STaRS Institute in order to enable more teachers to participate. According to Dr. Ericka Reid, director of OSED, a 2-week design best combined depth of the experience with ability of teachers to participate. “We wanted an extended experience for as many teachers as possible,” she said.

The program aims to broaden teachers’ understanding of basic biomedical research and thereby strengthen the biomedical research community. STaRS Institute participants will be able to go back to their schools with the knowledge they’ve gained, helping build student knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, environmental health sciences, including up-to-date laboratory technology and diverse career possibilities.

In the hallway outside the NIEHS confocal microscopy lab, Huei-Chen Lao, a biologist in OSED and one of the organizers, observed, “Teachers are some of the most creative people I know.” Sula Teachey of the Wayne School of Engineering at Goldsboro High School validated Lao’s observation. The classroom session on toxicology that Teachey developed called for students to set up a dose-response experiment. “I’d ask the teacher who runs the community garden if we could have some seedlings, which would make the experiment go a lot faster [than starting from seeds],” she said.

Enthusiasm reigned even as the program drew to an end. “You all were so dedicated,” said Lao, at the closing session, in which the teachers presented the classroom projects they’d created. A teacher summed it up by saying, “It’s been a priceless experience for all of us.”

“This experience helps us find more ways to hook [students] in and interest them in the sciences,” said Yolanda Blakeney (c) of Cabarrus-Kannapolis Early College High School. Dr. Amy Jessup of East Surry High School and the other teachers learned a variety of basic biomedical research techniques in lab sessions during the first week.

“This experience helps us find more ways to hook [students] in and interest them in the sciences,” said Yolanda Blakeney (c) of Cabarrus-Kannapolis Early College High School.

At right, Dr. Amy Jessup of East Surry High School and the other teachers learned a variety of basic biomedical research techniques in lab sessions during the first week.


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