Environmental Factor, September 2011, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Trainees form backbone of EHP workshops
By Eddy Ball
Michelle Heacock, Ph.D., right, presenting “Death by Particles,” set the tone for the workshop, as she demonstrated how to help students envision lung capacity with the help of a simple prop. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
An exercise in Trivedi's presentation, “Cleaner Air and Water on the Fly,” showed this participant the way adsorption cleans water passed through activated charcoal. However, as Trivedi observed, “You still have to dispose of the pollutants.” (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
In her presentation on "Robolobsters," Rachel Goldsmith, Ph.D., took participants through an eye-opening exercise demonstrating a sensing device that mimics the superior smelling ability of lobsters. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)
Kang, left, led an exercise with teachers that emphasized the importance of teamwork and communication in science learning and teaching. (Photo courtesy of Bono Sen)
During the planning process for the most recent Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) teacher workshops, Bono Sen, Ph.D., turned to an often-untapped source of teaching talent at the Institute- its 200-plus-member core of trainees. Sen, who is EHP's Science Education and Outreach Program(http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/static/scied.actionhttp:/ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/static/scied.action) manager, recruited eleven current and former postdoctoral fellows to teach most of the sessions during the two days of workshops, held Aug. 2-3 in Rodbell Auditorium.
“Working with trainees,” Sen said of the experience, “is a win-win situation for everyone involved.” Trainees get valuable science communication and teaching experience, and the workshops benefit from the presenters' individual expertise as well as their contagious enthusiasm about environmental health science.
As their evaluations clearly indicated, the attendees agreed strongly that the workshop was a valuable use of their time, something they would readily recommend to others. Having access to scientists during the workshop was something the teachers said they considered valuable. One participant wrote of the experience, “Exceeded my expectations! This is my first in-person workshop, and I am incredibly thrilled and impressed with all of the wonderful teaching resources and classy packaging of materials.”
For Sen, it was especially gratifying that teachers and science outreach specialists valued the workshop opportunity enough to spend the time and money necessary to come from as far away as the Outer Banks, the mountains of Western North Carolina, and even out of state.
Wide-ranging, fast-paced, and hands-on learning
Sen, a postdoc herself at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prior to joining the staff at EHP in 2009, worked with postdoctoral fellow Julie Hall, Ph.D., to design and coordinate the workshops, “Air, Water, and You” Aug. 2 for environmental educators, and “The Environment - A Human Health Perspective” Aug. 3 for teachers. The trainees, often working outside their areas of expertise, prepared short presentations and led attendees in classroom activities for their students.
Studies and news stories published in EHP formed the core of the workshop handbook, but most of the presenters took the curriculum to the next level with demonstrations of activities, instruction on making materials, video clips, and comprehensive lists of Web-based resources. With no shortage of questions from attendees, presenters sometimes found themselves talking more than they had planned about their own research.
Topics ranged from the expected, such as air and water pollution, and specific diseases of the lung and cardiovascular system, to the unexpected, such as the effects of the built environment on health, principles of green building design, and new technology for identifying sources of pollution in the oceans.
Building an experienced core of trainee instructors
Several of the trainees involved in the EHP workshops also contributed to the weeklong EHP student workshop held at the EPA in June (see story(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2011/july/spotlight-local/index.cfm)) and workshops for the Summer Internship Program in 2010(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2010/august/science-summer.cfm) and 2011(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2011/august/science-interns/index.cfm). EHP also goes offsite for presentations at area schools, such as Orange High School in Hillsborough, N.C. (see story(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2011/february/spotlight-students/)), and Sen plans to expand trainee involvement in them during the upcoming year.
Faced with a more challenging job market than in previous years, trainees increasingly value opportunities to enhance their prospects on the bench and off. “I think it's important to learn how to effectively communicate science at several different levels,” said postdoctoral fellow Erin Hopper, Ph.D. “And it's valuable for me to take something I don't know that much about, research it, and then train teachers how to get the lessons across to their students.”
“It's fun and exciting,” added postdoctoral fellow Darshini Trivedi, Ph.D. “I loved talking about my research on cardiovascular disease, answering questions, and renewing my own enthusiasm for my work.”
Several trainees, such as Nisha Cavanaugh, Ph.D., have also discovered the benefits of participation in the workshops in terms of networking. “One of my presentations led to a proposal from an outreach specialist at UNC [University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill] to give a seminar for teachers on my work with DNA repair enzymes,” she said.
Presenters honor roll
Guest speakers at the workshop included Public Affairs Specialist Ed Kang and biologist Huei-Chen Lao(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/ltp/mmm/staff.cfm) of NIEHS, and Laura Jackson, Ph.D., of EPA. NTP scientists Andrew Rooney, Ph.D., and Nigel Walker, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/tob/walker/index.cfm), participated in a panel discussion Aug. 3 about risk assessment.
Still the backbone of the workshops was its core of current and former postdocs:
Biologist Mercedes Arana, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/lmg/dnarf/staff.cfm)
Biologist Windy Boyd, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/bmsb/wormtox/staff/boyd/)
Postdoctoral fellow Nisha Cavanaugh, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/lsb/dnarna/staff.cfm)
Postdoctoral fellow Chaitra Cheluvaraju, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/lrb/matrix-bio/staff.cfm)
Postdoctoral fellow Rachel Goldsmith, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/ltp/cg/staff.cfm)
Postdoctoral fellow Kathryn Haas, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/ltp/cg/staff.cfm)
Postdoctoral fellow Julie Hall, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/ltp/cg/staff.cfm)
Postdoctoral fellow Michelle Heacock, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/lsb/dnarna/staff.cfm)
Postdoctoral fellow Erin Hopper, Ph.D.(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/atniehs/labs/lsb/mass/hopper.cfm)
Program Analysis Branch intern Linh Pham, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral fellow Darshini Trivedi, Ph.D.