The Department of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington (UW) proposes a five year project, Genes, the Environment, and Me (GEM). This project will address the pressing need for deeper understanding of biomedical research among diverse populations and increased representation of underrepresented minorities in biomedical fields through a school and community-focused science education program. The project will be conducted in collaboration with three programs within the UW Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, the UW Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, and scientists and ethicists at the UW and other biomedical research institutions throughout Washington. GEM will use a Community-Based Participatory Research Approach to involve community members-teachers, students, parents, and community leaders-as equal partners in planning, developing, and implementing project activities. Through these partnerships, we will develop a series of modular lessons focused on a fundamental concept of biology-the interaction of genes and the environment in the determination of traits in all living organisms. The lessons will be used to supplement health and science programs that serve underrepresented K-12 students throughout Washington and other parts of the United States. In addition, Family Science Festivals will involve students, teachers, families, and the community in learning about genetic concepts and health-related conditions in an informal all- age celebration. GEM will work primarily with school districts in the Yakima Valley, a rural agricultural region in central Washington with a high percentage of Hispanic and Native American students, many from high poverty families with limited English proficiency and low educational attainment levels. Complex diseases (i.e. those caused a combination of genetic and environmental factors) such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are important health problems for Hispanic and Native American people, making the teaching of gene- environment interactions an especially compelling topic for this population. GEM will focus primarily on middle and high school students and their teachers to promote deeper understanding of genetic concepts, including how genes and the environment interact to determine traits. Engagement in genetics activities and discussions of ethical issues that affect individuals and society will help students to formulate ideas about their own identity, attitudes, and interests, including career interests. Washington's teaching and learning standards require teachers to incorporate genetic concepts at these grade levels, and therefore they are eager to have well designed lessons to supplement their curriculum. Exposing students, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented communities, to linked career options may encourage some to pursue advanced studies in science and math and ultimately a career in a biomedical field.
Genes, the Environment, and Me (GEM) will work with school districts and communities in the Yakima Valley and throughout Washington State to develop a science education program focused on teaching about how genes and the environment interact to determine human traits, including disease conditions. Working with communities with a high percentage of underrepresented minority students, GEM will support teaching and learning about fundamental genetic concepts, complex diseases like type 2 diabetes that are influenced by gene- environment interactions, and how basic biomedical research is translated into clinical and public health practice through classroom instruction, after school programs, and community- based science celebrations.