submitted by Elika Ghoreishi and Lauren Bayans, Fall 2018 SORT students
The STEM Outreach and Recruitment Team (SORT) is made up of students with various backgrounds in STEM-related fields. SORT’s purpose is to tackle the public stigma around STEM education, to spark interest in careers in STEM from an early age and to engage undergraduate students majoring in the life sciences in educational outreach by generating an interest in and promoting an understanding of the biological science topics among elementary school students, middle school students, high school students, fellow undergraduates, and the general public. The course will provide training in public speaking, outreach, and recruitment for participants.
The following are some of the recent activities and events the team had the opportunity to work on:
Meet MCB is an annual event that is meant to encourage students to pursue STEM fields in college.
High school students from Phoenix and Tucson were invited to the Molecular and Cellular Biology department at the University of Arizona. Their visit was centered around the application process and what they should expect when applying. Both students and teachers were given the opportunity to tour the labs. In addition to the tours, the high school students were able to talk to student advisors, and learn about how academic research is conducted. The STEM outreach program is designed to connect students with resources to help them succeed as students, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Meet MCB provided a wonderful opportunity to show perspective students that the University faculty will go above and beyond to help them succeed.
At the Fountain of Life Lutheran Church Fall Festival, SORT demonstrated Wheat Germ DNA extraction. The aim of this experiment was not only to show children that all organisms have DNA, but also to inform them of its basic components. The most fascinating part of the experiment for the children was watching the DNA disassociate itself from the other components. It was captivating to see the looks of curiosity from the children and hearing them form their own opinions and questions about science. All the students had varying levels of understanding. A number of people visited the booth to discuss the current state of DNA testing methods. Overall, we learned the importance of introducing children to scientific methods and concepts.
At other elementary schools, including Wilson K-8 School and Carillo Magnet School, the team participated in Science Night by presenting a method of extracting one’s own cheek cell DNA using common household items like dish soap and ethanol. The children were able to help with much of the process, and had many questions about what the point of each step was. The team came prepared with explanations of how swishing salt water allows for cells to be collected from the mouth, how dish soap breaks down the membrane of each cell so that the DNA can be “pulled out,” and how cold ethanol makes the DNA separate and clump together so that it can be seen by the human eye. The students even got to make a necklace with their DNA inside so that they could take it home! This time, the team got to answer questions about how human DNA is used after it is extracted, and even got to discuss the process of 23andMe uses the samples they collect (mostly with parents, of course).
Overall, the SORT class had many opportunities to not only learn more about various STEM topics, but also had the chance to further develop their public speaking skills, understand and mold the public’s perception of STEM workers, and have fun!