Team:William and Mary/Human Practices/Medical Explorers

Medical Explorers

Our partnership with Warwick High school brings in 20 Medical Explorer Students for a two day intense experience with University level lab work. 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.
Find Communities
Students interested in medicine are often very interested in the biological sciences. We wanted to present students with examples of synthetic biology research and help them understand the impact this science will have on the medical field in the future. These learning objectives will be valuable for students who maybe using gene therapies as treatments with future patients, or for students who have an undiscovered passion for lab work.
Evaluating Interest & Understanding
We connected with Amanda Snyder, the Magnet Coordinator for Warwick High School, to collaborate on the Medical Explorers summer program for rising 9th graders. Amanda provided a background on what the students would be covering during their two week experience in the Medical Explorers program. Knowing that the students were just entering high school helped us to create a program that would offer new challenging material but not be overwhelming for the students.
Consider How to Connect
Knowing the students had an interest in medical sciences helped us to put synthetic biology into a relevant context for them. The goal of this outreach was to excite students about the potential applications of synthetic biology, while making them aware of the limitations and risks associated with the science. To promote this discussion and engagement we provided ample medical examples to keep students engaged. We had two days with these students so at the end of the first day we distributed short articles discussing relevant uses of synthetic biology, every student got a unique article, and we encouraged students to look into other examples of bioengineering at work. Students were then prepared to talk about their articles and how they felt about the use of synthetic biology. This combination of teaching methods allowed us to connect more effectively with students, encouraging learning through hands on activities, in a reading, and then in a discussion.
Search the Database & Adapt
We knew we wanted to encourage student discussion as a part of this program, however we weren't sure the best way to distribute information and spark conversation. We turned to the Database and found BostonU's 2016 forums which covered topics ranging from GMO foods and Genetically Engineered Mosquitoes to Editing the Human Germline and Martian Colonization. Their model gave participants a brief informational packet, and then had broad questions to spark conversation. The links for the Human Germline project and GMOs were both still in progress, but we used the questions under G.E. Mosquitoes and Martian Colonization as inspiration for the kinds of questions that would prompt good conversations. These questions include things like; what are the 3 greatest obstacles in implementing your plan? Who should be in charge and how should they go about the implementation of your plan? What ethical issues are evident in your plan? These questions encouraged students to dive into their readings and evaluate their own ideas without feeling like there was a right or wrong answer.
On July 16th the medical explorers visited the lab and discussed DNA technologies and the medical uses of techniques like gel electrophoresis before completing a gel electrophoresis mystery. While the gel ran the team discussed techniques in gene editing, specifically transformation and CRISPR-cas before working with edited RFP and GFP E. Coli. After students plated their bacteria they each picked up a brief and straightforward article describing a synthetic biology application to prepare for the next day’s class.
On July 17th the medical explorers returned to view their bacterial art projects, and image and analyze their gels. We reviewed the techniques the students had learned the day before and discussed the articles students had selected. Conversations ranged from the feasibility of some synthetic biology projects, to the ethical implications of our work.
Reflect & Record
The students really enjoyed the first day of hands on activities! We got a ton of positive feedback from students and teachers about how excited they were to image their gels on day two. During day two it was challenging to get students to share with the larger groups about their article. When we broke into smaller groups of 4-5 students conversations flowed a lot better. Many students were interested in the bounds of this science. Many students identified the traditional hopes for synthetic biology like curing disease, but it was especially interesting and excited to hear students discussing the ecological and ethical implications they considered. We ended the session by asking students what types of synthetic organisms they would like to create and were pleasantly surprised by how well throughout their answers were as they considered aspects such as feasibility. These student's interest in in vivo applications of our work helped to influence our project design. Details can be found on our IHP page.