Postdocs showcase outreach program at local school
By Eddy Ball
Members of the NIEHS community turned out May 2 to show their support for outreach efforts by Institute trainees at Lowe’s Grove Middle School in Durham, N.C.
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The WOW! Event marked the conclusion of the spring 2013 program, conducted by NIEHS postdocs as part of the Citizen Schools North Carolina effort in Durham and Charlotte schools. It was a time for families, friends, and members of the community to celebrate the achievements of their young students’ ten weeks of extracurricular learning about science, technology, and other professions.
The programs at Lowe’s Grove, and other schools nationwide, are presented by what the Citizen Schools organization calls citizen teachers, as part of a grass-roots campaign to ground education in a real world context, to nurture the next generation of America’s workforce. With support from the NIEHS Office of Science Education and Diversity (OSED), early-career scientists from the Institute volunteered scores of hours, both at work and home, in preparation for ten weeks of enrichment for the students, in a series of learning activities related to respiratory health.
Along with expanding student awareness of science itself, explained outreach program coordinator Huei-Chen Lao, “The program brings scientists very near to the students, to show that scientists are just normal people with a passion for learning about the world around them.” Interacting with young scientists, agreed OSED Director Ericka Reid, Ph.D., presents students with approachable models for who they could be, if they decide to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). That relationship is reflected in the term “apprentice,” which is how the Citizen Schools program describes its student participants.
Building on the past, looking to the future
NIEHS involvement in the Citizen Schools program at Lowe’s Grove began in 2011, with trainee-initiated planning for the spring 2012 “Healthy Lungs, Happy Living” apprenticeship (see story), the largest volunteer apprenticeship ever at Lowe’s Grove. The program was so successful that Citizen Schools was eager to host the NIEHS respiratory health curriculum again this spring.
Planning for the fall program has started already, with Institute postdocs developing a new curriculum in cell biology. Several volunteers from the spring program have already made a commitment for the next session beginning in September. Lao encourages postdocs, scientists, and other NIEHS employees, with an interest in outreach and teaching, to join current volunteers at Lowe’s Grove in the fall.
Career development as a labor of love
For the nearly 30 postdocs who have been a part of the NIEHS Citizen Schools program, outreach is an opportunity to pay back, pay forward, and invest in careers. In addition to nurturing young minds, as they were nurtured by their own mentors, and promoting scientific literacy for the next generation, volunteers are adding experience to their resumes that will help them stand out in job searches to come.
“It’s a great opportunity to share what we love,” said Laboratory of Structural Biology visiting fellow Sara Andres, Ph.D., “to get younger students interested in science, so one day they can do the same thing.” An important part of what motivates the volunteers is to help advance STEM careers, overall.
“One of the reasons I was interested, was because I wanted to see what the U.S. school system is like,” explained Laboratory of Signal Transduction visiting fellow Felicity Davis, Ph.D., a native of Australia, who added that she’s ready for more involvement with the program. “Sara and I are both signed up for the next time [the fall cell biology internship].”
“I plan to use this on my CV as an initial teaching experience,” Andres added. “I know they’re younger, but teaching is teaching at all levels.”
Volunteers from NIEHS
Contributing to this year’s effort are a lucky 13 trainees from research groups across the Institute:
- Margaret Adgent, Ph.D.
- Sara Andres, Ph.D.
- Miranda Bernhardt, Ph.D.
- Lindsay Buckley, Ph.D.
- Christopher Campos, Ph.D.
- Felicity Davis, Ph.D.
- Jacqueline de Marchena, Ph.D.
- Yanshun Liu, Ph.D.
- Caroline Pantazis
- Wipawee (Joy) Winuthayanon, Ph.D.
- Shannon Whirledge, Ph.D.
- Kimberly Wiggins, Ph.D.
- Taylor Wolfgang