Spring 2017 Newsletter
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Inaugural PA DNA Day reaches over 300
Last April, young scientist volunteers from Lehigh University participated in the inaugural Pennsylvania DNA Day. PA DNA Day is an outreach program that brings young scientists into high schools to talk about DNA, genetics and new genomics advances. With its inception, it joined the growing network of states celebrating National DNA Day, held every April 25th to commemorate the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953 and the completion of the Human Genome Project 50 years later in 2003.
Working with Angela Scott, Director for Academic Diversity and Outreach at Lehigh, Dr. Krystle McLaughlin, PA DNA Day director and Lehigh professor of practice, formed a partnership with science teachers the Bethlehem City high schools to bring young Lehigh scientists into the classroom to celebrate DNA Day. Interested young scientists who responded to the campus-wide open invitation, including undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, were trained to deliver a class module on genetics aimed at high school students.
A major goal of PA DNA Day is to provide an opportunity for high school students to meet and interact with a young scientist, broadening their scope of what a scientist looks like and breaking down barriers for students to follow scientific career paths, especially students from STEM underrepresented minorities. Moreover another major goal of PA DNA Day is to give early-career scientists at Lehigh the opportunity to share their passion for science with students, fostering a spirit of public engagement and interest in science outreach throughout their careers.
For this inaugural PA DNA Day, 16 Lehigh University volunteers participated: 10 undergraduates, 5 graduate students and 1 postdoctoral researcher. Combined, the volunteers taught 11 different class periods, with 5 teachers at Liberty and Freedom high schools, reaching over 300 students! In each class, Lehigh volunteers discussed with students the advances in genetics and genomics, as well as their own personal paths to science. The interactive class module involved a presentation on DNA and a short experiment to demonstrate genetic principles (such as: extracting your own DNA from saliva! Or testing if you have the PTC tasting gene!).
Feedback about the program was overwhelming positive. Teachers from the high schools praised the Lehigh volunteers. Said one teacher, “All the ambassadors were amazing, their range of experience was great to witness.” Another commented on their students reactions saying, “It was a great experience for the students. They thoroughly enjoyed the activities and guest lectures. I would highly recommend this event to others.”
The young scientist volunteers from Lehigh University also praised the program. “[Participating helped me] I think most importantly, being able to communicate scientific topics (various ranges of complexity) to a general population/audience is a very useful skill that I know I personally will need in my future research career.”
With the success of PA DNA Day 2016, Dr. McLaughlin hopes to expand the program to nearby Lehigh Valley colleges and universities to recruit more volunteers, which will allow more high schools to be reached. PA DNA Day is based on the successful model of the North Carolina DNA Day, which has scientist volunteers from universities statewide visiting almost 100 high schools each DNA Day.
Additionally, based on requests from the Bethlehem high school teachers that participated in PA DNA Day 2016, Dr. McLaughlin is currently working with Lehigh students on creating a new DNA Day module on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). This module will be presented at the high schools visited on future PA DNA Days, and will be shared with the entire national DNA Day network for use in other programs throughout the country.
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