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`DNA Day 2016’ Expands High School Science Classroom Outreach in Kansas

Monday, May 09, 2016

LAWRENCE — Students at 20 public and private schools in Kansas learned about current biomedical science research last month from someone other than their regular classroom teachers.KU graduate students Vi Thanh Leitenberger (left) and Mahekta Gujar, both in Molecular Biosciences, were Kansas DNA Day presenters April 22 at Free State High School in Lawrence. 

For the second year in a row, teams of Kansas DNA Day ambassadors visited schools from Wichita to Kansas City, making interactive presentations on genomic inheritance, personalized medicine and model organisms. This year, the 116 ambassadors were undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty from the University of Kansas, Wichita State University, Kansas State University and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri. In 2015, all ambassadors were from KU.

Between April 5-29, the ambassadors visited more than 100 classrooms and reached more than 2,000 students, an increase from 2015. April is chosen for the program because the Human Genome Project was declared complete in April 2003 with the final sequencing mapping of the human genome.

According to Lynn Villafuerte, a program coordinator in KU’s Office for Diversity in Science Training, the goal of the outreach program is to connect university scientists with high school students in ways that benefit everyone.

“These young scientists strengthen their ability to communicate complex ideas,” said Villafuerte, “while the high school students link their biology course content to real-life research applications. They also learn about careers in science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) by meeting people who are already doing research and launching careers in the biosciences.”

The ambassadors, usually 2-3 to a team, were given a class period to introduce a topic, present slides, conduct an experiment with the students in some cases and respond to questions. Each of the three topics followed a learning module, all of which are available online.  

Two new modules were developed for Kansas DNA Day 2016 by KU graduate students: Sally Chang, Alex Erwin, Lucas Hemmer and Lukas Klicka in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Haifa Alhadyian and Dianarys Hernandez-Aquino in the Department of Molecular Biosciences.  These students also coordinated all DNA Day ambassador communications and training.

Kansas DNA Day is supported by the Office for Diversity in Science Training at KU and is part of a new network of DNA Day programs in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Saudi Arabia. The next edition will occur on and around April 21, 2017. 

Kansas schools participating in April were:

  • Abilene High School
  • Baldwin High School
  • Basehor-Linwood High School
  • Santa Fe Trail High School, Carbondale
  • Eudora High School
  • Patton Junior High School, Fort Leavenworth
  • Sumner Academy, Kansas City
  • J.C. Harmon High School, Kansas City
  • Wyandotte High School, Kansas City
  • Free State High School, Lawrence
  • Lawrence High School
  • Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, Overland Park
  • West Franklin High School, Pomona
  • Midland Adventist Academy, Shawnee
  • Shawnee Mission North High School
  • Shawnee Mission East High School
  • Spring Hill High School
  • Topeka High School
  • Washburn Rural High School, Topeka
  • Wichita East High School.

Photo: KU graduate students Vi Thanh Leitenberger (left) and Mahekta Gujar, both in Molecular Biosciences, were Kansas DNA Day presenters April 22 at Free State High School in Lawrence. 

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