This project will develop an ongoing partnership with disadvantaged schools across a 14-county region of New York that will facilitate teacher and student recruitment, preparation, and mentorship for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Project activities will focus on basic genome analysis and bioinformatics, and the partnership will be directed by the University at Buffalo Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences (BCLS) and the New York State Area Health Education Center System (NYS AHEC). Thirty biology teachers annually from partnering schools will attend a two-week summer workshop at the University at Buffalo where they will receive training in use of the Integrated Microbial Genomes Annotation Collaboration Toolkit (IMG-ACT) of the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute. During Semester I of each school year of the project, NYS AHEC will organize college and career exploration sessions to familiarize students with the gene annotation project and to provide a "real world" context. Students will develop career plans by the end of Semester I as well as indicate their interest in participating in gene annotation activities during Semester II. During Semester II, each teacher will work with at least 5 students (150 total per year) on a genome annotation project using the IMG-ACT. Each spring, a Capstone Symposium will be held, bringing participating students and teachers together to present their projects and to interact with university faculty, researchers and bioscience employers. Formative and summative evaluation activities will be conducted for all teacher and student participants who participated in multiple years of the project to assess broader based outcomes related to changes in knowledge, behavior and dispositions toward STEM-related careers.
Bioinformatics is in a period of rapid growth, and genomics is becoming increasingly important to the life sciences and health care practices. Genetic and genomic research are expanding throughout the biological sciences, and bioinformatics is providing tools for enhanced understanding of health and improvements in prevention, detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. Growth has been so rapid that some areas are experiencing shortages of trained researchers, and the health professions have been challenged to keep up with developments. Moreover, this era of great research potential coincides with a trend of declining student interest in science, and the nation has had particular difficulty addressing minority underrepresentation in STEM fields. There is an urgent need for teacher and student exposure to science role models, as well as instructional approaches that allow students to work with real scientific data and tools, and to make connections between what they are studying and the problems their families and communities are facing. As students and teachers perform the gene annotations associated with this project they will simultaneously be learning to use public domain bioinformatics software and conducting a research project. They will experience the excitement of making novel discoveries, as well as some of the uncertainty associated with any scientific experiment. They will learn to question assumptions and to formulate and test hypotheses about the genes they are annotating, rather than simply performing scripted laboratory exercises. It is expected that the hands-on approach to learning and basic bioinformatics research, along with the STEM related career exploration sessions and continued NYS AHEC support of student participants, will motivate students, and better prepare them to seek out academic programs and careers in STEM-related areas. Teachers will obtain professional development and training in basic bioinformatics that can then be incorporated into their general classroom teaching.