Alumni ROCS Awarded Projects
Fernando Medina, Melissa Brock, Diane Brache-Smith, Mathew Cope Arguello, Luis Enrique Valentin Alvarado
Microbial Diversity 2022 Alumni
Dr. Fernando Medina Ferrer is developing a citizen science initiative to survey microbial biofilms and their in-situ activity in natural habitats through hands-on outreach experiences impacting Middle and High School students in Northern California. In collaboration with Microbial Diversity alumni Diane Brache-Smith (UC Merced), Matthew Cope-Arguello (UC Davis), Luis Enrique Valentin Alvarado (UC Berkeley), Melissa Brock (UC Irvine), and UC Berkeley teammate Virginia Russell, they are carrying out an activity consisting of three modules: (1) Assembling and using a portable microscope, (2) assembling and using a field colorimetric microbial activity assay, and (3) visualizing and documenting the results obtained from real environmental samples. Equipped with both the portable microscope and the field assay, students can independently observe, analyze, and collect data from diverse, self-chosen microbial habitats, including their schools, neighborhood creeks, and even their own backyards! This experience engages students with everyday microbes that not only live around us, but that also have the potential to change Earth’s environment. We believe that the activity of microorganisms in their natural habitats is vastly understudied, thus the student exploration of diverse sites through pictures and activity measurements provides real data to better understand the microbial world around us.
STAMPS 2022 Alumni
With funding from the MBL ROCs Award Erin Maybach’s project BioInform is extending the collaborative environment she experienced at the MBL to the scientific community and beyond. BioInform is an internet platform and community project designed to increase interdepartmental collaboration and science communication through the lens of bioinformatics. Scientists can connect and expand their view of computational biology and the applications of bioinformatics through community forums, featured published literature, and educational resource centers. In person, BioInform reaches beyond the website through an ambassador program led by scientists and professionals to facilitate collaboration and communication at their home institutions and connect with local communities.
Neurobiology 2022 Alumni
Engagement in Marine Neurobiology, Electrophysiology, and Microscopy
For her project entitled, “Engagement in Marine Neurobiology, Electrophysiology, and Microscopy” (or “Project EMNEM” for short), Lydia Naughton, a 2022 neurobiology course alumni and graduate student at University of North Carolina, Wilmington, will be collaborating with other UNCW graduate students in the Community Engagement in STEM class to enact lesson plans for students in Pender County, North Carolina. The lesson plans will focus on examining the neurobiology of marine organisms through techniques in electrophysiology and microscopy. Her team members from the UNCW Community Engagement in STEM class include Olivia Jackson, Christina Salerno, Alex Smith, Alicia Cotoia, Mina Surprenant, and Elisabeth Gianelos. The goals of this project are to 1) expose young people to topics and technology in neurobiology that they might not otherwise be able to access and 2) make science education resources easily accessible to the broader public. To accomplish these goals, they will design and implement hands-on activities for students at the Communities in Schools (CIS) after-school program at Burgaw Middle School. Activities will involve exploring the diversity of marine organisms that have contributed to fundamental discoveries in neurobiology, measuring neuronal activity using Neuron Spiker Box kits from Backyard Brains, and examining histology slides using compound microscopes. Upon completion of these activities at the after-school program, we will donate the Neuron Spiker Box kits and microscopes to the UNCW Center for Education in STEM so that other educational programs and schools in the area can use these tools through the center’s Technology Loan Program. Finally, they plan to make a YouTube video recapping the outreach project so that anyone can learn from and try these activities. Through this outreach to students in Pender County, which is an area that has a long history of generational poverty, we hope to inspire critical thinking and excitement for science in this population of kids who have limited access to exceptional STEM resources. We hope that this work continues to impact the surrounding community in the future as local educators utilize the activities and resources through the Technology Loan Program.
Amanda Ciani Berlingeri and Elise LeBovidge
Biology of the Inner Ear 2022 Alumni
Improving community understanding of speech and hearing sciences through a student-led Career Exploration Outreach event
The Communicating Science Seminar, a student-led group founded by Amanda Ciani Berlingeri and Elise LeBovidge, has organized a Career Exploration Outreach Day for high school students focused on rehabilitation-related careers. In collaboration with the UW Women’s Center Making Connections program, this outreach event will provide students from predominantly underrepresented groups an opportunity to explore various aspects of speech and hearing sciences and adjacent fields. Students will also learn about the different career paths affiliated with rehabilitation professionals. For two years, members of the Communicating Science Seminar have been working to improve their science communication and public speaking skills. This effort has prospered into the development of interactivedemonstrations which we will implement at the outreach event (e.g., a gallery of microscopy images of the inner ear sensory systems taken while at the MBL, hands-on “viewing” of vocal fold vibration using electroglottography, creation of functional lung models, etc.). In addition, Amanda and Elise will offer printed materials that spotlight relevant undergraduate programs including research-based mentoring opportunities for traditionally underrepresented groups in STEM (e.g., REUs). It is our hope that through hands-on demonstrations in a safe and engaging environment, we can inspire these high school students to pursue careers in speech-language therapy, audiology, or related sciences. Because our outreach event is student-led, our project has several broader impacts and overall outcomes. This group has improved the science communication and teaching skills of our department’s current students at all levels (from undergraduate to doctoral). Through the creation and implementation of hands-on activities, we also enhanced their understanding of various aspects of speech and hearing science. Furthermore, by organizing a local community event, they will improve the general understanding and scientific literacy regarding communication sciences in their local community.
Veronica Pagowski and Silvia Vicenzi
Neurobiology 2022 Alumni
In pursuit of bitterness
A variety of techniques in biology are relatively easy to learn and introduce topics fundamental to understanding basic principles, widely used across many fields within the biosciences. Such techniques offer a unique opportunity to engage students with diverse interests. We plan to hold hands-on classes demonstrating some of these techniques in San Diego and Monterey county schools in collaboration with local institutions dedicated to serving student communities, including BASIS Community Resources for Science and the Salinas Community Science Workshop. In these classes, students will learn how to extract DNA from fruits, extract their own DNA, perform PCR, and run gel electrophoresis to find out if they have alleles for different traits like lactose intolerance and bitterness tasting! Veronica and Silvia will also discuss the logic of each protocol and how we use these and similar techniques in our own research to answer very different questions in neuroscience, cancer biology, ecology, and evolutionary biology.
The overall goal is to promote science within underrepresented communities and to encourage young people to make connections between studying science at school and career opportunities through interactive lab activities shared by inspiring role models.