Future Policy Makers Model United Nations
Frequently we reach out to adult policy makers to discuss our projects, this year we wanted to tap into the future policy makers and get them excited about our work before they become policy professionals. To create an accessible and relevant outreach program we followed the Outreach Planning Guide. An overview version of the guide can be found on the Database Page page
The ultimate goal of bioengineering projects is implementation. However, in order for any work to leave the lab researchers need approval from policy makers. This year, we partnered with William & Mary Model United Nations to ensure the next generation of domestic policy makers, WHO officials, and international law makers have an understanding of synthetic biology.
Evaluating Interest & Understanding
To ensure our product and presentation matched the interests and current understanding of the high school students coming to Model United Nations we connected with Ashley Shang, the Undersecretary-General for General Assemblies. Shang coordinates the nearly 1,500 students who attend William & Mary High School Model United Nations. Students come from 60 high schools from across America for the event. In our meeting we determined most of the attendees have taken high school biology, and are familiar with the basics of DNA replication but that gene editing technologies and applications would be new. Fortunately for our team, students participating in Model UN are expected to do substantial research prior to attending the conference. This gave us a unique opportunity to guide student learning before they attended our official presentation. Ashley connected us with Julie Vu who heads the WHO committee and she created a Background Guide directing students in their research and pushing them to explore synthetic biology topics. This background guide gave us amazing access to our target community.
Consider How to Connect
The structure of Model United Nations includes a background guide which presents the topics for discussion for each committee before they arrive at the conference. This background helps guide student’s research and offers a shared foundational knowledge for all attendees. The background guide also provides information on CRISPR-Cas technology and encourages students to look into bioengineering/biohacking before attending the conference. This guide was distributed to the 150 students in the WHO committee as the first point of contact. Ashley requested we create a powerpoint presentation to build on information in the background guide, the presentation will kick off the debate. The goal of the outreach project was to expose high school students with an interest in international policy to the potentials of synthetic biology and give them the opportunity to practice discussing the science.
Search the Database & Adapt
Our presentation was about Biohacking, as outlined in the background guide. Although our team was familiar with the science, we had never presented to international policy makers. Before presenting we wanted to ensure that we put our research into the appropriate context for the students so we turned to the Database for additional suggestions. By using the "specialized audiences" option we were able to find team ETH_Zurich's 2016 Youth rep workshop which centered around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which are goals the United Nations hopes to achieve by 2030. We took some of the topics ETH_Zurich had presented as the most important for their United Nations related program and used them as inspiration for our own research. Our iGEM team went on to create a synthetic biology presentation which both built on the foundation set in the background guide and introduced advancements and concerns in synthetic biology relevant to legislators such as new medical advancements, the regulation of reagents and information, and the containment of synthetic organisms.
On October 4th we met with Julie and Ashley and presented our rough draft of the presentation. It was well received and we were given additional time to expand our presentation to include even more synbio applications. We will be presenting our 20-minute presentation, to 150 High School Model United Nations students on Sunday, November 10th. The group will then spend the rest of the day discussing and debating global policy as it relates to biohacking, DIY biology and bioengineering advancements. This project was designed to put synthetic biology into a global policy context, encouraging students to see the impact of bioengineering. By presenting synthetic biology in this new format we are able to make synthetic biology relevant for a larger portion of the high school population. We have already learned so much about the complexities of international organizations from our conversations with Ashley, and we can't wait to learn from the high school students as they approach bioengineering policy from new angles!
You can find the background guide Below - SynBio begins on page 3