Inspiring the next generation of scientists
The broad GGA community of faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers, and students strives to make their science accessible to the general public. We engage the community in varied and meaningful ways, including writing popular science books, developing online resources, training extension specialists, making K-12 classroom visits, running enriching afterschool programs, carrying out hands-on museum demos, giving illuminating science cafe talks, organizing citizen-science projects, offering teacher training workshops, leading summer science camps and providing diverse internships opportunities to students and teachers. Our goals are to make genetic and genomic sciences, from botany to biomedicine to evolution, accessible and exciting, involve the public in impactful research projects, and inspire the next generation of geneticists.
Scroll below to view a sample of outreach initiatives GGA members are leading or involved in.
Middle school students today will graduate from college around the time that several organizations plan to land the first humans on Mars. Over the course of their careers, there will almost certainly be permanent colonies of humans living off earth. They will also see the global human population begin to reach its predicted plateau of approximately 11 billion people. These changes pose tremendous challenges for food production and will require new and innovative solutions. This program challenges middle school teachers and their students to imagine how humans might raise chickens on Mars. To do so, they have to consider how different STEM fields interact to ensure they account for all the biological needs of the animal and humans, and the systems required to transport, feed, and shelter all involved as sustainably as possible. Teachers work with content specialists at NC State, Farm Bureau, industry professionals, county extension agents, and NASA to develop problem-based lessons for their students designed to help them define the problem and develop potential solutions. Lesson plans are then externally evaluated and made available for other teachers and students to use and expand upon.
Environmental Health Research Experiences for Teachers in High-Poverty Schools, A Professional Development Program
High school teachers are recruited to spend 8 weeks during the summer immersed in a research lab associated with the Center for Human Health and the Environment. They conduct research as a full participating member of the lab and present their own research projects and a public poster session. Teachers take their own lab experiences back into their classrooms for better integration of the nature and process of science and science research.
This five-day workshop for biology teachers provides hands-on training in basic recombinant DNA technology and synthetic biology. Workshop participants employ mini-versions of standard laboratory equipment to implement a series of molecular and synthetic biology methods to generate a recombinant DNA construct. The techniques covered in the workshop include plasmid DNA isolation, gel electrophoresis, restriction digest, Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), Circular Polymerase Extension Cloning (CPEC), competent cell preparation, bacterial transformation, and blue-white selection of bacterial colonies. The experimental modules taught in the workshop have been beta-tested in the hands of 43 AP Bio students at Athens Drive High School in Raleigh.
- Target audience: High school teachers
- Program contact: Dr. Anna Stepanova
- Website: alonsostepanova.wordpress.ncsu.edu/synbio-workshop/
Biotechnology is playing an ever-increasing role in the economy of North Carolina. The jobs associated with biotechnology are some of the highest paying and most stable in our state; however, these jobs are concentrated around urban and suburban regions. This leaves many in rural North Carolina out. For students growing up in rural communities, biotechnology jobs are things other people do. They can’t envision themselves in these jobs because they don’t know anyone who has one and therefore don’t really know what these jobs are about or the skills it takes to get a job in the biotechnology field. The goal of this project is to address both the skills gap and the representation issues by establishing a mini-biotech company in the biotechnology classroom of the Bertie Early College High School. This biotech company serves as an innovative teaching model to give students authentic learning experiences related to biology, chemistry, physics, and business elements of the NC Essential and Common Core Standards. This is done through the framing of a recombinant protein production company where students work to produce bacterially produced proteins for use in research labs at NC State. This helps the students link these concepts through higher-order thinking, and more importantly, link biotechnology and science to their daily lives and possible careers.
The Roberts Lab engages in a variety of public outreach projects including science cafe talks, and museum exhibits like Fish Face Frenzy! (about dietary specialization and evolution; K-5 audience) and Dances with Fishes (about using comparison among animals to understand behavior; all ages audience). We also run Fish Filet Forensics, a one-day hands-on molecular biology workshop for high school students and high school teachers.
Plants4kids is a bilingual (English and Spanish) hands-on web-based program for young children that teaches basic plant biology. To disseminate and promote our web program, since 2011 the Alonso-Stepanova lab has been running monthly hands-on demonstrations at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and at local schools. Currently, our Plants4Kids program consists of 14 experimental modules designed specifically for children (age 5 to 12). By providing step-by-step bilingual directions for performing easy and free or inexpensive experiments, we hope to include children coming from low-income families that often have very limited resources and/or poor English language skills. Our goal is to stimulate interest in science among young people and to make basic science accessible to the underrepresented Hispanic community.
- Target audience: Elementary school children
- Program contacts: Dr. Anna Stepanova, Dr. Jose Alonso
- Website: alonsostepanova.wordpress.ncsu.edu/welcome/outreach/
Students spend several days working with an NCSU engineering professor on a small project. Students learn about research, science, engineering, and college. Recent projects have involved using microfluidics, imaging live nematodes, constructing DIY microscopes, and building particulate matter sensors. The program is carried out in conjunction with Juntos Summer Academy.
Letters to a Pre-Scientist is a pen pal program that connects students in low-income communities with real scientists. Our mission is to demystify STEM careers and empower all students to see themselves as future scientists. Through interactions with a real scientist, students authentically connect to science and counter harmful stereotypes about what scientists look like and do at work.
Genetics GSA outreach programs aim to bring the research being done by Genetics Graduate Students to the general public. We create lessons that make genetic sciences fun and accessible through engaging activities, and we are always creating new lessons based on current research. We regularly host the “Darwin’s Finches” table at Darwin Day at the NCMNS, we have created and taught fruit fly genetics lessons to patients at the UNC Children’s Hospital, and spent the day with 7th grade science students at East Wake Middle School to teach them genetics techniques and about our journey in the sciences.
- Target audience: K-12 students
- Program contacts: Kara Carlson, Sam McMillan
- Website: genetics.sciences.ncsu.edu/graduate-program/genetics-graduate-student-association/
Participants help professional researchers count and type white blood cells in monkeys to aid in understanding monkey health. The obtained blood cell count data are then linked to monkey behavior and genetics. This research is invaluable for establishing similar health and behavior connections in humans.
- Target audience: High students, college students, adults in general public
- Program contact: Dr. Julie Horvath
- Website: zooniverse.org/projects/mbarrierz/monkey-health-explorer
In this popular seminar, NCSU’s GMO expert Dr. Gould takes his audience on an exciting quest, from genetically engineered foods to genetically engineered environments, and talks about thought-provoking topics, from de-extinction to human engineering.
- Target audience: K-12 and college students, senior citizens
- Program contact: Dr. Fred Gould
- Website: cals.ncsu.edu/entomology-and-plant-pathology/people/fgould/
Viewers watch an exciting new documentary about CRISPR discovery and emerging applications of this groundbreaking technology, and get their pertinent questions answered by CRISPR experts.
The Art of Science Communication is an online course that provides fundamental training in science communication, focusing on how to present science to a non-expert audience in a formal setting, such as a public lecture. Using video lectures, background material, virtual mentoring and discussions, the course covers the important components of what makes for a successful presentation, including messaging, generating interest and engaging with the audience. The course is open to all scientists and STEM professionals.
Every August, the Milla-Lewis group, along with other turf breeders at NCSU, hold a “Tour of Breeding Plots” where they present early data on upcoming releases from the breeding program and provide updates on the genomic aspects of the program.