Rochester Area Students to Benefit from $1.3M University Award

January 04, 2007

Dina Markowitz, Ph.D.

The National Institutes of Health today announced a $1.3 million grant to the University of Rochester to create engaging, new curricula for New York high school science classes. Students can expect to learn about topics as diverse as stem cells and cholera, and investigate real case studies and read online scientific papers adapted for teenagers with video-game style animation.

The UR Medical Center was one of 11 universities across the nation to receive a total of $11.5 million in Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA), a program designed to increase public awareness of health issues, foster science literacy, and encourage students to consider careers in health sciences.

Dina Markowitz, Ph.D., director of the Life Sciences Learning Center at the Medical Center and associate professor of Environmental Medicine, is the principal investigator for the SEPA project. She will work closely with Shaw-Ree Chen, Ph.D., a research assistant professor and assistant director of the LSLC. Their goal is to develop science lessons that simulate real-life health research but also tie into New York State standards and can be taught in an average classroom, some with only 40-minute time slots.

“We are delighted to receive this SEPA funding which will be used to create these new curriculum modules that focus on biomedical research at the University of Rochester,” Markowitz said. “This grant will allow us to reach out to local high school students and teachers in the Rochester community, and also to students and teachers from throughout the state, and provide them with engaging learning experiences.”

Markowitz and Chen have chosen four research areas within the Medical Center around which they would like to design the new curricula: stem cell research by Mark Noble, Ph.D.; studies of the genes involved in causing cholera outbreaks by Michelle Dziejman, PhD.; the role of air pollution in asthma, allergies and lung ailments by Gunter Oberdoerster, Ph.D.; and the neurobiology of vision repair after injury by Krystel Huxlin, Ph.D. The first step is to gain approval of these curricula areas from local teachers, who will be convened in focus groups.

Once the new lessons are fully developed, students will also be able to get a feel for modern lab techniques such as DNA micro array analysis that would normally be too costly for a school setting. The creation of case studies for the students will also allow them to think about science and research in a more contemporary way, Markowitz said.

Chen has already produced two prototypes of scientific papers on HIV and dental bacteria for use as teaching tools, as well. She retooled them for the classroom by introducing, for example, dense concepts such as RNA signaling pathways with Pac-Man style animation, user-friendly and colorful graphics, and words that students can easily digest.

Markowitz is no stranger to innovative program development. In fact, since 1998 Markowitz and her group have received nearly $6 million in grants to support similar science education projects and to develop the Life Sciences Learning Center. As a result, each year more than 2,500 teenagers from the Rochester region visit the LSLC, which is located in the Medical Center complex and features a modern laboratory for students to carry out experiments, and a training center for teachers.

The SEPA programs are part of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), which is part of the NIH. They are intended to reach students in rural and underserved communities and to support professional development for teachers. SEPA emphasizes the need to increase public awareness around some of the most important issues in research today, such as ethics, evidence-based medicine and bioinformatics, according to the NIH.

For more information about SEPA visit: http://www.ncrrsepa.org

For more information from the NIH, contact: Joyce McDonald or Ann Puderbaugh at the NCRR at (301) 435-0888.

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