The University of Findlay’s Mobile DNA Outreach Program has received a fiscal infusion that will further UF’s mission of sparking and nurturing area school students’ interest in science.
UF was awarded $9,352 from the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation as part of its Deep Learning program, which supports projects that foster development of critical thinking skills such as reasoning, problem solving, intellectual openness, practical application of learning and inquisitiveness. The University’s Mobile DNA Outreach Program aims to equip adolescents with these critical skill sets by traveling to local high schools and providing hands-on experiences for students in the core curriculum areas of genetics, heredity and evolution.
The outreach program involves in-depth instruction and applied experimentation in the basics of molecular biology using science equipment and techniques that teach students how to delineate species and investigate crime scenes. Students also will learn skills, such as micropipetting, that typically are applied during college and graduate-level research.
With the Martha Holden Jennings Foundation grant, UF intends to:
- Train 20 Northwest Ohio high school biology/science educators to teach additional molecular science topics, with an emphasis on phylogeny (the study of an organism’s evolutionary history);
- Provide two-day hands-on training in DNA laboratory techniques and phylogeny to approximately 200 students in four Northwest Ohio high schools;
- Invite 24 exceptional students who exhibit a particular interest in biology to campus for a special Bioinformatics Symposium day to expand on their skills. They will conduct lab work using a high-tech genetic analyzer that UF obtained in 2012 with a grant received from the National Science Foundation.
Bethany Henderson-Dean, Ph.D., associate professor of biology and chair of the Natural Sciences Department, will be coordinating and overseeing these efforts. Dr. Henderson-Dean is supported in this grant by Christopher White, M.S., instructor of biology and lab coordinator, who will be the expert traveling to each of the four selected school districts to provide the hands-on instruction.
From 2007 through 2015, UF provided practical lessons in genetics and DNA to 672 high school students in 14 districts. The outreach is meant to open students’ eyes to career opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, particularly the sciences.
Such outreach to younger students is also in keeping with UF’s overall championing of STEM education at all levels, including at the undergraduate and graduate levels with the University’s $1.2 million National Science Foundation Robert Noyce Scholarship grant program, which recruits those who are in the workforce and trains them to become math and science teachers at high-needs schools.
For younger students, UF has Derrick’s Oiler Learning Express, a tricked-out bus that makes learning about science even more fun. Featuring experiments for Hancock County students in grades 4-6 that are easily adapted to serve those down to the kindergarten level, the mobile classroom, complete with all the necessary equipment, incorporates soil, skeletons, water and other materials for biological science instruction.
The increasing importance, relevance and complexity of scientific knowledge, as it applies to everyday needs, makes UF’s efforts on campus and in service to the greater educational good at other schools even more vital.
“High school students are not often exposed to modern molecular biology tools due to cost of the equipment and reagents,” said Henderson-Dean. “This grant will allow students to experience hands-on activities that they would normally not have access to at their high school.”