Grant Helps Build Understanding of Environmental Health with Hands-on Science Kits

Jun. 6, 2017

Students learning from Science Take-Out KitsA University of Rochester start-up company, Science Take-Out, LLC, has been awarded a nearly $1 million, two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to further develop a line of hands-on environmental health science kits for use in community settings. The kits will help teachers and community educators increase the public’s understanding of how the environment can affect their health.

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) at the NIH will support modification of Science Take-Out’s current line of environmental health education kits for broader use.

Since 2008, Science Take-Out kits have provided a convenient and cost-effective way for teachers to incorporate engaging environmental health science activities into their classrooms. Now the kits, which align with national and state science education standards, will undergo a second round of extensive field testing to ensure they are relevant and accessible to diverse community audiences.

“Educating students and the general public about the link between the environment and their health allows them to make informed decisions and change their behavior to protect themselves from environmental exposures,” said Dina Markowitz, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Medicine, director of UR’s Life Sciences Learning Center.  

Markowitz and Katrina Korfmacher, Ph.D., associate professor of Environmental Medicine and director of the Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC) at URMC’s Environmental Health Science Center, partnered to develop and test eight current environmental health kits, which range from lessons on breast cancer to lead poisoning prevention.

With the new award Markowitz and Korfmacher will collaborate with environmental health community outreach professionals from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill COEC, the University of Texas Medical Branch COEC, and West Harlem Environmental Action to adapt the kits for use outside of the classroom.

“We look forward to working with partners through the COEC network to adapt and pilot these kits with diverse audiences and applications to develop new ‘community kits’ that will support environmental health engagement activities throughout the country,” said Korfmacher.

The team will also foster wider adoption of the kits by developing and evaluating instructional materials to help teachers and outreach professionals train their respective colleagues to use the kits.

“Our use of peer-presenters to lead workshops has significant advantages,” said Markowitz. “Peer-presenters’ experiences and familiarity with their own organizations – for example their state’s curriculum standards, or the local environmental health issues of concern – give them increased credibility when conducting peer-to-peer professional development.” 

The team hopes the new grant will help them develop a cost-effective way to promote hands-on environmental health education across the country and to engage the general public in the environmental health conversation.