Getting WISE about science and engineering

As a graduate student, outreach is an instrumental part of our educational experience, whether we are presenting our recent work at a conference or mentoring a new student who joins the lab. Here at Hopkins, we are presented with ample opportunities that would fall under each of these categories. One of the rewarding activities in which I have participated is the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program in partnership with Garrison Forest Schoo (GFS)l, an all-girls school located in Owings Mills, Maryland.

labwarestockThe WISE program is a partnership between GFS and Johns Hopkins University, and each year, around 14 interested juniors and seniors take part in a four-month research program. Students in the WISE program are matched with a graduate student research mentor who could be from a number of Hopkins programs, including the Schools of Engineering, Medicine, Arts and Sciences, and Public Health. The WISE students come to Hopkins for six hours each week, where they are able to participate in laboratory activities, department seminars, group meetings, classes, and even try their hand at a few experiments.

During my second year, I was able to serve as a mentor to two WISE students, and I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to mentor them. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to be able to explain my project on nanoparticle-based drug delivery systems for cancer treatment so that they could understand the research and also be able to explain it to their fellow students and teachers. I wasn’t sure how much they would be able to do, but throughout the course of the program, they were able to learn how to use pipettes, prepare the nanoparticle solutions and even try to culture cells and view them under a microscope. At the conclusion of the program, they both gave ten-minute presentations on all that they learned. Both said that without this program, they might not have strongly considered a future major in a science field but would certainly do that as a result of their experiences.

Again this year, we have another WISE student working in our lab with a first-year Biomedical Engineering graduate student. Between reading some background information on the project, learning how to use the equipment, and even trying a few simple experiments, it has been a busy, but enjoyable, first few weeks in the program.

If you are interested in more information about the WISE program, please visit http://www.gfs.org/academics/the-wise-program/. I would encourage everyone to strongly think about becoming a mentor for a WISE student in the future. It was a rewarding experience for me, and I hope it will continue to push new students into STEM fields for their future careers.

John-Michael Williford is a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering working in the laboratory of Hai-Quan Mao.

 

High school research internships keep skills fresh

For most teenagers, finding a summer job is almost a rite of passage into adulthood. It’s a chance to learn responsibility and time management and practice how to get along with coworkers. It also helps earn money for college or fun. A group of specially selected teens, however, were able to take the concept of the summer job a step further as summer research scholars in Johns Hopkins University laboratories.

High schooler Christopher Miller with his graduate student mentor Hoku West-Foyle. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

High schooler Christopher Miller with his graduate student mentor Hoku West-Foyle. (Photo by Mary Spiro)

The Summer Academic Research Experience (SARE) program, an opportunity funded in part by Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology and the School of Medicine, trains students from “disadvantaged” homes throughout the state. Some students may have a parent in prison or struggling with addiction. Others may face extreme financial hardship or even have been homeless.

SARE scholars have a chance to overcome obstacles to academic success by working in academia under the guidance of a mentor. They improve their writing and mathematics skills through tutoring. And they learn how to keep good laboratory records, how to follow safety protocols, and how to make a professional presentation.

“This is way better than flipping burgers,” exclaimed Stephanie Keyaka, as she prepared an image of a Western Blot performed on Drosophila eye genes. Keyaka, a tenth grader from The SEED School of Maryland, the state’s only public boarding school. She studied rhodopsin in the eyes of flies in the lab of professor Craig Montell during the summer of 2012.

SARE, launched in 2009 through a collaboration between INBT and School of Medicine cell biology associate professor Doug Robinson, recruits students from the private nonprofit Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore, from The SEED School, and now also from The Crossroads School, operated by the nonprofit Living Classrooms Foundation. While the partnership with Boys Hope Girls Hope has been in place from the beginning, working with The SEED School and The Crossroads School has expanded the potential pool of qualified and interested applicants. “Expanding the applicant pool makes the program more competitive, which is a worthwhile experience—to have to compete for something,” Robinson said.

During their time at Hopkins, each SARE scholar focuses on a mini research project that advances the larger goals of the lab where they are placed. No prior laboratory work is expected, and the learning curve is steep. But with mentoring from graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, the scholars find their way. At the end of the summer, the scholars present their findings in a poster session for their peers, faculty and staff.

“At the beginning of the summer, I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about, but now I get it!” laughed Christopher Miller, a tenth grader from The SEED School. Miller studied the motor protein myosin in the Robinson lab.

Miller’s mentor, cell biology doctoral student Hoku West-Foyle, said working with students during the summer helps to re-energize the lab. “At first, it is a bit of extra work, but it gives you teaching experience, and when you are explaining your project to other people, it helps to reinforce why the larger research question matters. It fires you up to work harder,” West-Foyle said.

Shaolin Holloman, an eleventh grader at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and Girls Hope scholar, worked in the cell biology lab of professor Carolyn Machamer. Her project sought to understand why the SARS coronavirus localizes to the Golgi apparatus of the cell.

“I liked the work experience because we actually got to do hands-on experiments,” said Hollomon, who hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon. “The biggest challenge for me was to keep up with my weekly essays, my summer reading and the work in the lab.”

Robinson hopes the program can become self-sustaining and even scalable to accept more students. “We are at a juncture where we are seeking additional funding, so we are systematically assessing our impact,” Robinson said. One would judge that the SARE program’s impact is significant, since all five alumni who have graduated from high school, or who will do so this spring, have gone on to university, Robinson reported. Two students have declared biology as their major and the other three still in high school are interested in science, technology, mathematics or health-related disciplines. Five new scholars will join SARE this summer.

Khalek Kirkland, The SEED School headmaster said summer internships of this kind are important to help keep students motivated and on track academically. “We do believe in the ‘summer brain drain,’ in that students do lose something over the summer,” Kirkland explained. “Doug and I are in talks about writing a grant together to expand the program not only to SEED School students, but to additional students as well.”

Anyone with interest in supporting the efforts of the SARE program can contact Douglas Robinson via email a drobin15@jhmi.edu.

Story by Mary Spiro

More on the SARE program:

Lab coats are summer gear for high school researchers 

Mentors model academic pathway

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Johns Hopkins Nano-Bio Magazine and was written by Colin Paul, a third-year graduate student at Johns Hopkins University in the Konstantopoulos lab. He invites anyone with questions about or interest in the Incentive Mentoring Program to contact him at colin.paul@incentivementoringprogram.org.

When I was in high school, I had an inspiring chemistry teacher. He was funny, he rewarded hard work, and he let us light salt fires in paths around the soapstone lab benches in his classroom. He stayed after school to help my twin brother and me build a “ChemE Car” that used a chemical reaction to stop after a given distance, and we placed second in a competition for local high schools held by the University of Tulsa. He made the subject interesting, and his passion for it was contagious.

Charli

Charli Dawidczyk mentors Baltimore high school students. Photo by Mary Spiro

Before taking his class, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study in college. But as the year progressed, his mentorship helped me decide to pursue chemical engineering, and I’m still doing that as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University.

As a scientist, I hope I can inspire others to consider a career in science. Mentorship is particularly important to underrepresented groups in the sciences, such as minorities or women. It’s so important that the National Institutes of Health supports science education and outreach through its Office of Science  Education, and the National Science Foundation has made it a goal “to expand efforts to increase participation from underrepresented groups and diverse institutions throughout the United States in all NSF activities and programs.”

Johns Hopkins University is also increasingly leading efforts to improve Baltimore communities. In an editorial published in the magazine of the School of Advanced International Studies, Hopkins president Ron Daniels stated the need for Hopkins to help revitalize Baltimore and outlined some of the initiatives to do so.

Faculty, staff, and trainees at Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology (INBT) are challenged to become more involved in mentoring pre-college students. Recently, INBT partnered with the Incentive Mentoring Program (IMP) to hold a “Science Day” for students at the Academy for College and Career Exploration (ACCE), a Baltimore high school near the Hopkins Homewood campus. IMP, founded in 2004 by Hopkins biomedical engineering graduate Sarah Hemminger, pairs mentors with underperforming Baltimore city high school students who were at risk of not graduating. The program has grown to incorporate several hundred volunteers from the East Baltimore and Homewood Hopkins campuses.

Colin Paul, center, looks on as high schoolers us liquid nitrogen to make ice cream. Photo by Mary Spiro.

Colin Paul, center, looks on as high schoolers us liquid nitrogen to make ice cream. Photo by Mary Spiro.

IMP provides comprehensive mentoring and tutoring to enrolled students, offering educational, legal, and career support to the students and their families. IMP is not merely a tutoring program in which volunteers help students with homework. Instead, it provides students with the social support they may otherwise lack. Teams of five to six mentors are assigned to each student, and these mentors coalesce into an extended family around the student, many of whom come from environments where even graduating from high school is an obstacle. So far, all of the students enrolled in IMP have earned their high school diplomas or equivalent degree.

As IMP grew, students from the laboratories of INBT-affiliated faculty members Peter Searson, Konstantinos Konstantopoulos, Hai-Quan Mao, Justin Hanes, and Andre Levchenko started to get involved. INBT sought to unite the groups for an event to encourage science education among the IMP students. The idea to hold a joint event came from Andrew Wong of the Searson lab, an INBT trainee who has been instrumental in IMP’s community service activities. I led the event, held on February 27, with Charli Dawidczyk, a doctoral student from the Searson lab.

Our first activity was to build a simple speaker using foam plates, magnets, and wire. Students learned how electromagnetic forces, whose strength and frequency vary depending on the song, deflect the foam plate to create sound waves when the plate is glued to a magnet with a coil of wire around it. The speakers weren’t loud, but everyone participated, even though they might have been more interested in the strong neodymium magnets.

Next, we moved from physics to chemistry and made liquid nitrogen ice cream. We discussed how liquid nitrogen boils at -321°F, much colder than water, and how it would very quickly freeze our liquid ice cream mix. The students made excellent chefs and were excited to see water vapor roil over the lip of the bowl as liquid nitrogen was stirred in to freeze the cream. The recipe got several thumbs up, and the demonstration really held their attention.

I hope the students saw how science comes up in everyday life, even in things we don’t always think about, like music and cooking. By having fun and doing experiments with their mentors and friends, they may realize that a career in science is an option for them. In many ways, IMP is an experiment on how to provide extended families for at-risk students. Problems are tackled on a trial-and error basis by volunteers from a variety of backgrounds. Often, an initial solution does not work; but, just like in the lab, we think about what went wrong and try to improve our approach.

The PIs at INBT have encouraged us to make a difference in the community. I’m grateful that my education at Hopkins has included IMP and the wonderful students and volunteers comprising the organization.

Lab coats are summer gear for high school researchers

You don’t think of a lab coat as summer wear for teens, but we don’t quite feel like it’s summer around here until our research interns have arrived. Early in June, INBT’s undergraduate nano-bio researchers arrived. This week our high schoolers in the Summer Academic Research Experience (SARE) scholars got started.

SARE pairs specially selected teens with university mentors who guide them through a mini research project. At the end of their time here, they hold a small poster session. The students gain valuable work skills, learn about scientific careers, get tutoring help, practice their writing, gather data for their projects and earn some cash for the future. Students in the program are recruited from the Boys Hope Girls Home of Baltimore program, The SEED School of Maryland and The Crossroads School, all of which assist in differing ways with in the education, housing, tutoring  and counseling of promising young people from disadvantaged circumstances.

The SARE program was launched in 2009 by Doug Robinson, professor in the cell biology department at the School of Medicine, and is funded jointly by the medical school and Johns Hopkins Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

This year’s SARE scholars include: Diana Bobb is being mentored by Makoto Tanigawa in the Takanari Inoue Lab in the Department of Cell Biology; Kaleel Byrd is being mentored by Ryan Vierling in the Caren Meyers Lab in the Department of Pharmacology; Milan Dower is being mentored by Tom Lampert in the Peter Devreotes Lab in the Department of Cell Biology; Jewel Herndon is being mentored by Herschel Wade in his lab in the Department of Biophysics; De’Sean Markley is being mentored by Hoku West-Foyle in the Douglas Robinson Lab in the Department of Cell Biology

High schoolers to show off their summer research

Stephanie Keyaka (left) working with Jincy Abraham (Notre Dame) in the Craig Montell Lab. Photo by Mary Spiro.

The Summer Academic Research Experience (SARE) pairs specially selected teens who come from academically disadvantaged homes with university mentors who guide them through a mini research project. The students gain valuable work skills, learn about scientific careers, get tutoring help, practice their writing, gather data for their projects and earn some cash for the future. The group will present their research findings during a poster session at the Johns Hopkins University medical campus on August 20 in the Bodian Room (1830 Building Rm 2-200) from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m.

“This is way better than flipping burgers,” laughed Stephanie Keyaka, as she prepared an image of a Western Blot performed on  Drosophila (fly) eye genes.

Keyaka is one of three high school students who worked in a biological chemistry laboratory  this summer with financial support from Johns Hopkins University Institute for NanoBioTechnology and School of Medicine.

Christopher Miller (right) with his mentor Hoku West-Foyle. Photo by Mary Spiro.

Keyaka, a rising 10th grader from The SEED School of Maryland, will be joined at the poster session by Christopher Miller, also a rising 10th grader from The SEED School of Maryland and Shaolin Holloman, a rising 11th grader at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute who is part of the Boys Hope Girls Hope of Baltimore.

The SEED School of Maryland is a public boarding school that accepts qualified children from across the state entering the 6th grade.  Boys Hope Girls Hope is a privately funded nonprofit that offers students the chance to attend academically challenging public or private schools and the opportunity to live in the Boys Hope or Girls Hope home.

Miller studied the protein myosin in the cell biology laboratory of  associate professor Douglas Robinson. Holloman worked in the cell biology lab of professor Carolyn Machamer on a project that sought to understand why the SARS coronavirus localized in the Golgi apparatus of the cell. Keyaka studied rhodopsin in the eyes of flies the lab of professor Craig Montell.

Shaolin Holloman (left) with professor Carolyn Machamer. Photo by Mary Spiro.

Help celebrate the accomplishments of our summer high school students who participated in the Summer Academic Research Experience. This event is free and open to the entire Hopkins  community. Light refreshments will be served. Students, faculty and mentors will available to discus the projects.