Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Spotlight on the Genetics Teaching Team

By Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

This month, we spotlight the Genetics Teaching Team.  Laura VanArendonk and Erica Schoeller, the two co-heads, shared some insight on how the team operates as well as personal thoughts on their volunteering experiences with the team. 

The Genetics Team is a widely popular arm of YSP – with over 150 volunteers subscribed to its email list – that teaches fun and interactive demos to students in St. Louis.  One of the coolest demos the team does is extracting DNA from bananas; here, students use common household items such as shampoo and salt to obtain genetic material from fruit.  Demos like this one allow the students to have fun with science while learning about DNA and what each step in the procedure does.  For each teaching outing, the ratio of volunteers to students is comfortable, with approximately 3 volunteers for a group of 20 students.   This lets the volunteers gain experience teaching a large group of students in a non-overwhelming environment, with lots of opportunities for individualized interaction with the students.  Volunteering opportunities are fairly frequent – a maximum of probably 2 or 3 times a month plus participation in special events such as Women in Science Day – so volunteers wishing to participate have no shortage of chances to do so.

Laura VanArendonk is in her third year at WashU, and she has been volunteering with YSP since her very first year here.  Her involvement started with participation in a few Genetics Teaching Team demos as well as one with the Family Med School at the St. Louis Science Center, and soon enough she began going to YSP Steering Committee meetings frequently.  Laura has found volunteering with the Genetics Teaching Team to be extremely positive.  "I've never had a bad teaching team experience; pretty much all of them have been really fun and enjoyable!" she says.  The Genetics Team teaches a spectrum of students, and her favorite interactions have been with high school students.  For Laura, being able to work with students who already have a pretty good grasp of the science topics the Teaching Team is presenting is very enjoyable.  For instance when she does the DNA Extraction from Bananas demo, she explains that these students have  "a little clearer idea of what DNA is and why it's really cool, and they often get really excited when they learn they'll actually get to see what DNA looks like." 

As a YSP volunteer since her first year in graduate school (with plans to graduate next semester!) plus two years of being co-head of the Genetics Teaching Team, Erica Schoeller has acquired a lot of volunteering experience and thus has many great thoughts and memories to share about the teaching team.  Regarding future demos that we can potentially expect from the team, Erica reveals to us some exciting ones developed by Jessie Geahlen, a former teaching team head, to use in situations where the students already have a solid foundation of genetics knowledge and thus the general, introductory demos on DNA would not be advanced enough.  Erica says, “One [demo] involves mitosis and meiosis using giant pool noodles to represent chromosomes. The other one is a genotype/phenotype game - it's sort of like a live demonstration of a Punnet square where the kids put on hats and sunglasses to represent phenotypes that are associated with different traits.”  When I asked Erica to divulge to us some of her most memorable Genetics Teaching Team experiences, she was happy to share.  “Oh, man, I have so many good stories from YSP.  It seems like the younger the kids are, the more hilarious things they say,” she tells me.  One of her stories has to do with a game the volunteers play with the kids called “How Big is Your Genome?” where the kids rank organisms based on their genome size and explain to the volunteers the logic and reasoning behind their choices.  Erica says, “One kid told me that trees obviously have the biggest genome because they're the "fanciest."  I do love those fancy trees, but unfortunately they do not have the largest genome. The reality is that the amoeba has the largest genome by far, and no one really knows why, so it's fun to talk with the kids about why that might be.”   These days, since Erica is graduating soon she is transitioning in someone new to co-head the Genetics Teaching Team along with Laura VanArendonk; this smooth transfer of leadership will certainly keep the team operating as well as it has been and will continue to provide great experiences for students and volunteers both.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

September 19th - Informational Meeting on The Young Scientist Program

The Young Scientist Program invites Students, Postdocs, Technicians, and PIs along with past and current volunteers to an informational lunch and activity fair on Wednesday, September 19th at 12pm in the King Center (7th floor Medical Library).  Please RSVP if you can to Jennifer Mosher at 362-4841 or by email at  If you are not able to RSVP, still come anyway! 

The Young Scientist Program is designed to attract high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds into scientific careers through activities emphasizing hands-on research and individualized contact between young people and active scientists. In addition, it targets St. Louis City Public High School teachers with resources that facilitate inquiry-based learning in the classroom. Each year the program reaches hundreds of high school students and teachers in the St. Louis City Public Schools. The program components work in concert with one another to foster high school students' and teachers' interest in science.
The main YSP components are: >Teaching Teams – Volunteers visit St. Louis City High Schools and present units in Anatomy, Chemistry, Ecology, Evolution, Forensics, Genetics, Genomics, Microbiology, Neuroscience, and Physics. >Summer Focus – 8 week summer internship for high school juniors. Volunteers serve as program organizers, mentors, and tutors. >Teacher and Researcher Partnership– 8 week summer internship for high school science teachers. Volunteers serve as program organizers and mentors. >Lab Equipment/Supply Recycling Program – This program recycles used equipment and computers into the local city schools. >Other programming includes: Family Med Program, Nano Medical School, Women in Science Day, and Family Science Experience.
If you are interested in The Young Scientist Program, but will not be able to attend, please let us know and someone will contact you about your interest.  For additional information on YSP please visit:  WEBSITE: * YSP Blog: * FB: The Young Scientist Program

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

An Interview with Monica Tassone - Past YSP Summer Focus Participant

YSP just wrapped up yet another outstanding year of Summer Focus (SF), and a question that comes up during this time is how the program’s participants fare in their post-SF futures.  Do the students look back fondly on their SF days and credit the summer for starting their science careers?  Or do they breathe a sigh of relief that their experience doing research in the lab is over and they can now live science-free lives?  To help answer these questions, this month YSP caught up with Monica Tassone, who participated in SF in 2000, to see how one of our alumni is doing and to give us some insight about her experience back then.

Peggy Ni: Why did you decide to participate in the YSP SF program? 
Monica Tassone: I had known I was interested in studying biology since middle school so when my chemistry teacher in high school told us about the YSP Summer Focus program I knew I should apply. 

PN: Could you briefly describe the project you worked on or the general research the lab did?
MT: The project I worked on involved cloning and characterization of a protein that was found to interact with the Niemann-Pick C1 (NPC1) protein.  Many of the molecular biology techniques that I learned during the project are still things I use in my current job.   

PN: What do you most remember about SF? 
MT: What I remember most about SF was mostly the experience of working in the lab.  This was my first hands on experience of lab work and it felt so right.  I just remember thinking this is what I want … as a career without a doubt.  I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity in the SF program.  It really helped me figure out my career path and stay focused on my career goals.  I have never doubted my interest in science research as a career and it all started with the SF program. 

PN: Looking back, what was the most important thing you learned in SF that has helped you either in life or for a career?
MT: One of the most important things I learned during the Summer Focus program was how to troubleshoot things that aren't working.  I think one of the most important lessons for any scientist to learn is how to deal with projects that aren't working out as you would have expected.  It is a difficult lesson to learn as we all want things to work the way we expect them to the first time but that is rarely the case in science.  Even though the project I worked on didn't work out exactly how we expected I learned a lot about how to logically think through options and alternatives and not just get frustrated and give up. 

PN: Could you talk about whether aspects of SF – such as seeing hands-on how lab research is conducted, interacting with graduate students, etc. – had any impact on your career decisions?
MT: I learned a lot from the graduate students that I worked with during SF.  Not only did I learn about science research but they also taught me about what it takes to get into graduate school and succeed.  Their advice helped guide me in college and graduate school planning. 

PN: If you don't mind, could you share with us YSP volunteers what you have been doing since SF?    
MT: Since the YSP summer focus program I went on to Truman State University and obtained a B.S. in Biology.  As an undergraduate I participated in two summer research programs one at the University of Missouri-Columbia and another back at Washington University in St. Louis.  Then I went to graduate school at University of California-Davis and obtained a M.S. in Cell and Developmental Biology.  Since graduation in 2008 I have been employed at Novozymes, Inc. a biotechnology company in Davis, California. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Interview with Keith Jacobs, July Volunteer of the Month

Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

Keith Jacobs, a Ph.D. student in the Molecular Cell Biology Program, became interested in YSP immediately after starting at Washington University – during his first year orientation to be exact.  Since then, he has been deeply involved with numerous aspects of YSP; he has interviewed applicants as well as served as tutor or liaison for Summer Focus, and he has participated in many teaching team outings.  These days, Keith is busy serving as one of the coordinators of Teacher Researcher Partnership (TRP) and working on the Lowenstein Teaching Kits. For TRP, Keith meets with the three teachers from the St. Louis Public School system who come during the summer to conduct research in labs on campus and develop a lesson plan based on the summer research for use in the classroom.  “This year, we have the unique opportunity to work with an elementary, a middle school, and a high school teacher so that we can hopefully help students at various levels of their education,” Keith says.  During bi-weekly meetings with the teachers as well as their lab mentors, Keith offers help and useful advice in developing the lesson plans.  For the Lowenstein Teaching Kits, Keith – along with Stephanie Scherer and Rong Zeng – is currently creating one with a topic of “Diffusion and Membrane Permeability,” allowing classrooms that check it out to learn about equilibrium, selective permeability, and tonicity.  He came up with this topic because he wanted a YSP project with more chemistry involved.  His background in chemistry contributed towards the idea of a membrane permeability kit, which has chemistry elements and is a topic that is probably difficult for students to comprehend.  And, the kit includes worksheet questions, interactive classroom demonstrations, and hands-on chemistry experiments to teach the science using various methods, effectively targeting all students who learn in very different ways.  Developing these kits is not a trivial commitment.  Keith estimates that it will take about a year to complete this one.  However, the work can be enjoyable.  In Keith’s case, he particularly likes the troubleshooting, the majority of which is revolved around making sure the timing of the reactions is consistent so that the lesson can be reliably planned.  One of the most challenging issues Keith has tackled with the kit also deals with time; though diffusion is a slow process, it must be adapted to fit the length of a class period and be short enough so that the students’ attentions don’t wander. 

Despite the challenges volunteers can face with YSP, there are many reasons why being involved with the programs is worth it.  One is the memorable experiences that volunteering offers, and Keith has some he’s accumulated throughout the years.  “Surprisingly, my favorite experiences with YSP do not involve free lunch,” he prefaces.  Instead, he has most enjoyed interacting with the Summer Focus students and seeing how high school students without lab experiences or familiarity with advanced, college-level science can learn so quickly and become capable of running experiments and be incredibly knowledgeable about their research in a short amount of time.  Another reason YSP can offer so much to volunteers is that it is meaningful in the real world.  “I think that using our scientific background, including both our knowledge and our problem-solving mindset and sharing it with students contributes much more to the world than any individual scientific paper we may publish,” Keith explains.  As a result, he dedicates much of his time to the program and invests a lot of thought to how it can be made even better.  One issue he has been thinking of is that YSP has a rather limited reach; although it tries to make itself broadly available to all St. Louis Public School teachers and students, it tends to generate interest and receive applications from the same, smaller group of schools.  Keith envisions that if YSP could receive an extensive network of support and advertising in the St. Louis City School District, then YSP could become more diverse, one thing that he would love to see in YSP’s future.  In the meantime though, Keith is content using his fantastic ideas and dedicated participation to help make YSP the great organization it is.

Monday, June 25, 2012

YSP Summer Focus Participants Visit the Howard & Joyce Wood Similation Center

Led by Julie Woodhouse, the Assistant Director of the Howard & Joyce Wood Simulation Center  and Dr. Wayland Cheng, Anesthesiology resident,  YSP Summer Focus participants toured the Howard & Joyce Wood Simulation Center ( the Washington University Medical School.  The simulation center is equipped with full-scale electromechanical mannequins used to train medical students, residents in multiple disciplines as well as attending physicians and nurses.  The computerized mannequins exhibit many of the features of a human being including blinking, breathing, heart sounds, breath sounds and pulses.  Washington University Medical School students and residents learn skills in a low stress, high-fidelity environment that is safe for patients.  During the simulation tour, YSP Summer Focus participants were able to ventilate the mannequin, diagnose an asthma attack and heart attack, and were able to resuscitate a simulated patient in cardiac arrest.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

June Volunteer of the Month: Moriah Beck

Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

Dr. Moriah Beck, who was the Student Director of YSP from 2004 to 2006, recently came back to Washington University for a visit and took some time to talk about her continued commitment to science outreach as well as give us some interesting insight on what YSP was like when she was here and her perception of it now. 

Moriah's previous experience with YSP was certainly extensive; before becoming Student Director, she first participated in the Chemistry Teaching Team, then moved on to co-coordinating Summer Focus in her second year, and along the way became involved in volunteering with what is now known as the TRP program.  After graduating from Washington University in 2007, Moriah went on to become a post-doc at the University of North Carolina.  She then moved to her current position, a faculty member in the Chemistry Department at Wichita State University in Kansas, and in fact has just finished her first year there.  Though Moriah cautions that it is hard to gauge direct cause and effect, she does believe that YSP has influenced her career path.  For instance, she became more interested in teaching after YSP, and her current job actually involves a lot of that as she spends about 50% of her time teaching and 50% doing research.  Additionally, she feels that she seeks science outreach more as a result of her experience with YSP.  Activities she was or is involved with include judging for "DNA Day" at North Carolina as well as writing forensic science tasks for the Science Olympiad tournament, a team-based competition for students, at Wichita.

Comparison of the current YSP with what Moriah was a part of roughly 5 years ago reveals a few distinct changes.  For instance, Moriah notes that there are more writing courses now, which is balanced by fewer journal clubs and scientist talks for Summer Focus.  And, there appears to be more involvement of the students' families, with a great example being the implementation of the Family Science Experience.

Having been deeply involved with YSP in the past and has since gained different science outreach experiences after leaving St. Louis, Moriah is at a unique position now to offer insight on what YSP does well and how it can grow.  The fact that YSP was initiated and is run by students is often spoken of, and Moriah agrees that based on what she has seen, this is indeed exceptional to not have a department or outreach group running and funding YSP but instead rely on hard-working and dedicated students.  This could be due to the location from which YSP operates; Moriah feels that there is a unique need for YSP in St. Louis due to the location of Washington University in the midst of the city and in close proximity to students in the city's public high school system.  Additionally, she praises the TRP program as being rare.  Not many other places have this opportunity for high school science teachers to work and learn in a university lab.  Moving forward, Moriah would like to see one thing YSP try to do that she believes would best benefit the community.  "We talked about somehow getting other schools to adopt this model and maybe identifying schools that have similar needs and student populations and somehow marketing YSP to them to see if they could start a branch," she says.  Moriah is unsure how feasible this endeavor would be, but the positive effect such an organization would have on both the volunteers and students seems to make the effort worth it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

YSP Welcomes Our 2012 YSP Summer Focus Program Participants

The Young Scientist Program would like to welcome our 16 high school students for participation in our 2012 Summer Focus Program.

Alex Aydt - Edwardsville High School
Anthony Beer - Cleveland NJROTC High School
Tyla Carter - Soldan International Studies High School
Jeniffer Garcia - Cleveland NJROTC High School
Torshawna Griffin - Cleveland NJROTC High School
Tiara Harris - Clyde C. Miller Career Academy
Sam Hunt - Metro High School
Malik Joseph - Vashon High School
Jaron Ma - Parkway West High School
Fowzia Osman - Rockwood Summit High School
Adela Redzic - Gateway High School
Vidhan Srivastava - Lindbergh High School
William Thurman - Soldan International Studies High School
Hannah Wiedner - Parkway Central High School
Caitlin Younge - Cahokia School of Choice High School

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Spotlight on the Microbiology Teaching Team

Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

YSP's Microbiology Teaching Team, led by Brian Malpede who is a Ph.D. student in the Molecular Microbiology and Microbial Pathogenesis Program, has been very busy these days, with an increase in outings to one or two a month now.  Brian recently took some time to share with us the interesting work that the Micro Team has been doing.  Having started volunteering for different YSP events because he enjoys teaching students, Brian had taken on the additional responsibilities of being the Teaching Team Head because he believes it is worthwhile to help supplement the microbiology knowledge of the students and then see them get excited about learning it.  Other volunteers with the Micro Team probably share his feelings, in addition to just wanting to escape lab for a bit, taking advantage of the chance to talk about science in the broader context instead of the narrow scope one must focus on in lab, and getting others excited about what they do in the lab.  Currently, one or two volunteers participate in each teaching team event. 

The Micro Team has faced a few challenges, which have all contributed to valuable learning experiences and allowed the team to be as successful as it is today.  Brian admits that now, meaning later in the semester, one challenge is for volunteers to commit their time to teaching since they understandably have finals to stress out about.  Nevertheless, the volunteers of the Micro Team have been incredibly dedicated, with great turnout earlier in the semesters.  Additionally, the volunteers must be able to adapt to different class sizes, as each teaching outing can have as little as 7 students to as many as 25.  Most importantly, it can be hard to come up with microbiology demos because a lot of things the volunteers want to do involve growing organisms, which a one-day teaching event obviously does not allow for.  And even if limitations on growing organisms could be overcome, it would still be difficult to make this type of demo interesting.  For instance, E. coli is commonly grown in the lab to make protein, and although this is an integral step in an experiment, it could be difficult to translate this microbe's significance in a short teaching demo.  Finally, volunteers sometimes encounter difficulties when they go to schools where the students are not enthused to learn about microbiology.  Brian recounts one time that stood out – half the students didn't show up, the other half didn't want to be there.  Plus, they were doing a gram staining exercise, which goes by slowly, making it even harder to engage the students.  Brian emphasizes that this is not the usual case.  Most of the time, it's easy to get the students excited about the demos; but, it is with challenges such as these that allow the volunteers to gain experience in coming up with engaging demos and thinking on the spot when teaching.

There are two main demos that the Micro Team usually includes in its outings.  A hand-washing exercise is particularly popular – students put a lotion that responds to UV (the lotion in this case is used to represent bacteria) on their hands, wash with hand sanitizer or soap, and shine UV light over their hands.  They should observe that with sanitizer, they keep seeing the UV because it doesn't get rid of the lotion ("bacteria"), but washing with soap should eliminate that.  "During the demo, we try to ask the students questions about why they wash their hands, how to prevent disease, how is disease transmitted," Brian adds.  Simple, creative, and amenable to discussion, it is no wonder this demo is used so often.  Another demo is an epidemiology one about disease transmission in a population.  Cups are filled with fluid, one cup with either a basic or acidic solution while the rest contain water.  The students take the cups, "swap fluids" (exchange in their cups), and use a pH meter to measure pH change – which is symbolic of getting the disease – to see who is infected or not.  Brian also notes that many of the teachers like to get involved, so volunteers often communicate with them to expand on the curriculum that the students have already been learning in the classroom rather than bring up completely unfamiliar topics.  Through tackling and overcoming the many challenges faced while volunteering – from trying to come up with relevant and meaningful demos to facing less than interested students – the Micro Team has undoubtedly enhanced the graduate or medical school experiences of its volunteers and enriched the lives of the students it teaches, making the difficulties all worth it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

An Interview with YSP Blogger Peggy Ni - March Volunteer of the Month

Written by Jennifer Lynch Yttri - YSP Volunteer

This month the tables were turned as Peggy Ni was interviewed as our volunteer of the month for March! Peggy is a 4th year Immunology graduate student. She has been volunteering with YSP since the end of her first year as a graduate student, 3 years ago. Peggy joined YSP as a continuation of her science outreach during high school and college, when she taught a class for middle school girls on computer technology. After hearing great things about YSP’s program and organization, she contacted volunteers she knew, got on the list serve, and the rest is history. Her first experience was as a tutor for a Summer Focus student, an experience she found rewarding as she got to watch the progression of her student over the 8-week program.

Her latest endeavor has been writing the YSP Blog, a project she started and considers “my baby”. You see, scientific writing is Peggy’s passion and this blog she hopes is the first step towards a career in science writing. She sees herself as a writer at a major scientific journal or at a more public interest magazine one day. Peggy first approached Jen Mosher to discuss writing a blog last year as a way to build her writing portfolio, as Peggy has never had journalism experience. Having been a volunteer, Peggy knew how awesome and rewarding volunteering with YSP is and she and Jen recognized the benefits of using a blog to promote YSP’s experiences and special events to the Wash U and wider community. New students who are curious about YSP can log on to the website and with one click, access Peggy’s blog to get a feeling for what volunteering is like first hand. As a consequence of starting this blog, Peggy was invited to write a blog for MidSci, a local biotech company who recently started a partnership with YSP, improving her writing credentials.

In writing the blog, she has particularly enjoyed writing the Volunteer of the Month. She said, “It’s nice to profile someone exceptional every month. It just makes them feel good, I think.” One goal for the blog this summer is following the progress of a few Summer Focus students through the course of the program to share their perspectives as they learn the ins and outs of conducting research and presenting their work.

What does she feel about being interviewed herself? Well, she found the experience very different. “I really appreciate all the interviewees that I have interviewed in the past. I don’t know how they managed such succinct, clear answers but it is really difficult!” For now, it seems, Peggy is happy to do her part in promoting YSP through her writing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Interview with Erica Siebrasse, February Volunteer of the Month

By Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

As the Director of Summer Focus 2012, Erica Siebrasse certainly has her hands full in the summer months when the high school students arrive at the Washington University campus to conduct research in the lab.  However, responsibilities and tasks during the rest of the year are just as demanding.  I asked Erica to describe all the behind-the-scenes work that make the summer a success, starting from the evaluation of the previous year's program up to the day the students arrive for research bootcamp.

Erica Siebrasse: The very first thing we do is the evaluation of the year before.  In August of 2011 after the 2011 program was done, we met and talked about the program and what we wanted to do differently for 2012.  Summer Focus has been running for awhile now; we have a lot of data from our participants and mentors.  And we don't want to change too many things.  It runs really well.  The only things we want to change are in the areas we've identified as being problematic.  Or, we can add something new that would be beneficial without taking away from other things.  This year, we're really going to try and do a better job of facilitating communication between the tutors and mentors and students because that always comes up.  It's definitely something that came up in 2011, that there's always miscommunication, and that's where problems with the students arise.  In 2011 we had also added the college prep program, so we talked about continuing that, expanding it a little bit.

The next thing I'm responsible for doing is getting mentors, which we started doing in November.  So I've been working on recruiting grad students or post-doc mentors, both new people and some people we've had mentor before.  Then also late 2011, we – Jen and I – try to go out to a lot of city high schools and do a pitch. … We try and actually go there because for a lot of the county kids where the schools are really motivated and they have teachers pushing this, we don't need to go out there.  For the city schools we definitely get better applications from those schools if we go.  For instance, it's been several years since we had an application from Vashon, which is up in north St. Louis, and I went there and we had two applications and one was a really solid application.  It's a little thing – it took me 30 min. to go out there – but it helps.

So now when things gear up, I'm trying to get the last couple of mentors.  All the applications were due in early January, and so I've read all … 72 this year.  One of the things we wanted to do better is increasing the diversity of Summer Focus.  The way that DBBS does this and recommended to us is to interview more applicants.  We don't want to take applicants that aren't quality applicants, but sometimes people don't do well on paper when they are certainly capable of doing well in the lab.  And so we are definitely interviewing more people this year.  We're interviewing 40 so that's probably 10 more [from last year].  Luckily for us, I think the applications this year were a little more diverse, and I don't just mean racial diversity, I mean diversity in schools we're getting, … cultural background, socio-economic background. 

So you had asked me all the way up to bootcamp?  We'll finalize mentors.  We'll finalize students by early March.  The only important other thing … is the mentor-tutor meetings … to go over what the summer is going to look like.  My goal this year is to have the meeting be more structured, whereas before it was a question-and-answer session, expecting the mentors to come up with questions they may not be able to come up with.  So I think I'm going to try and structure it more and be very clear about what our expectations are and … what they should expect from the students.  People who have mentored before have very reasonable expectations; people who have not mentored before may typically over-estimate, and a couple of times under-estimate, the capabilities of the students. 

Peggy Ni: With all the steps in this process, which would you say is the most difficult or arduous?

ES: I think they're separate.  It took me a lot of times to read the applications.  You can't really sit down and read them all in one entirety.  You want to make sure you give every student equal opportunity to impress you.  That's probably the most arduous.  The most difficult is making sure we have enough mentors, which this year has not been much of a problem. 

PN: Alternatively, is there a really fun part of the process?

ES: Same thing – I like reading the applications and what people have to say.  One girl wrote about how she likes science writing.  Who likes science writing?!  It's fun to see all the interest in science from younger students.  I really like the interviews too, actually meeting the students. 

PN: Could you describe some positive comments and feedback that made you feel really excited about Summer Focus this year?

ES: I think 90% of the feedback is positive.  If it's negative, it's very constructive negative feedback as in, "This is good but it could be better."  The kids really enjoy doing Summer Focus.  Even the kids who decide that science is not what they want to do almost universally say this was a wonderful experience, ie. "It helped me learn more about myself and helped me decide what I wanted to do."  I think most the mentors get something out of it, especially the grad students, because they're teaching somebody that has no idea what they're doing. … You have to communicate your project in terms that a lay person can understand. … You really have to think about how best to explain your project, and I think that's a benefit many of the mentors have identified.  You only think about the 16 kids that are in the program, but it really touches a lot more people.

Friday, January 13, 2012

January Volunteers of the Month: Brandon Holmes and Dan O'Brien of the Neuroscience Teaching Team

Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

The Neuroscience Teaching Team has been doing an outstanding job, and Brandon Holmes and Dan O'Brien – the two current Neuro Team heads – deserve to be acknowledged for their roles in maintaining the excellence of this YSP program.  The Neuroscience Teaching Team provides hands-on neuroscience demonstrations, either by renting a room on the Washington University campus and inviting students here or by personally making trips to different St. Louis schools to teach in individual classrooms as well as during general after-school sessions.  Though the schedule is quite variable, the team usually goes out to schools about two to three times a semester and hosts students at WashU four to five times per semester. 

Brandon has been involved with YSP for four years, ever since he attended an extracurricular activities fair and was impressed with the enthusiasm of YSP members and thought that volunteering with YSP would be a worthwhile way to spend his time.  His favorite demo is the Neuroanatomy module, in which human or mouse brains are used to explain how the brain is organized, for its highly interactive nature.  "There's no set way to teach it; you teach based on the needs of the students that show up that day.  It can also be very discussion-based," explains Brandon.  Even the younger students, once they recover from the shock factor, learn a lot from this demo and are very excited to find out more about the brain.   Dan has been volunteering with YSP almost as long as Brandon – for 2 years ever since his first semester at WashU.  He has a vastly different opinion about the Neuroanatomy demo, however.  He asserts that knowledge-wise, this demo doesn't allow students to take a lot from it compared to some of the others; instead, Dan praises the Proprioception module, in which the Teaching Team demonstrates how the brain senses the body's position in space, because the students are able to see neuroscience in action.  As everyone's teaching style is different, it is great that the Teaching Team has developed lesson plans spanning divergent ends of the spectrum – from impromptu, discussion-based ones to more structured experiments incorporating first-hand scientific experience – for the volunteers.

Dan and Brandon have been teaching with YSP for a number of years and are both examples of how valuable the volunteering experience can be.  For instance, Dan says that he has evolved throughout his years of teaching; specifically, he now can better convey science to the lay audience.  "It's definitely prepared me to convey my message to a broader audience, and it's also just given me confidence in presenting in general," he shares.  Brandon envisions that he will stay in academia for his future career, and he thus anticipates that teaching will be a big aspect of his job.  He firmly believes that, along with being a TA for other classes, being involved with YSP's Neuroscience Teaching Team definitely prepares him for his future.  And in fact, the Teaching Team is a lot more fun because the students generally want to learn and choose to attend, and they are younger and more excited, making the experience very rewarding.

Looking to the future, Brandon reveals that he'd like to see the Neuro Teaching Team grow by supplying neuroscience teaching kits to teachers, and he and Dan are in the process of deciding what type of demo to include.  Also, Brandon agrees with Stephanie Rodriguez's comment in a previous interview that a challenge YSP faces is its growth and whether or not it can maintain the quality of the programs.  Brandon believes this would affect the Neuro Teaching Team and, from his experience, adds that an additional facet to this challenge is the limited time of the volunteers.  As everyone is extremely busy, it may sometimes be difficult to conduct teaching outings, and perhaps certain requests for the team to visit will just need to be turned down.  Dan is optimistic of the Neuro Team's ability to adapt to challenges and suggests that as long as there is strong leadership in YSP, the programs will be able to successfully train new volunteers to meet the demand.  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

YSP Endowment for Science Literacy - Challenge

As the year comes to an end, we hope you will consider making a contribution to the YSP Endowment for Science Literacy. The endowment is an effort for YSP to establish a permanent source of funding to rely on when we are not grant funded or to use for special YSP projects. For more information or to make a contribution visit the YSP website at: click on the endowment link. Our next goal is $100,000 and a challenge has been issued to match every dollar given to help us reach this next goal. We would like to do this by the end of the year!

Thank you to all our YSP volunteers and supporters. You have done a great job this semester and we had a busy and successful semester thanks to all of your hard work.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Volunteer of the Month: Stephanie Rodriguez

Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

December Volunteer of the Month: Stephanie Rodriguez

Stephanie is a third year Ph.D. student in the Immunology Program. Her contributions to YSP are significant; she was an inspiring tutor for Summer Focus, she was an integral part in launching teaching kits for YSP, and she is also transitioning as the new Student Director.

Peggy Ni: What are the main duties of being the YSP Student Director?

Stephanie Rodriguez: Mostly you're the tying hand between all the different facets of YSP. Since everything is volunteer-based, it would be very easy for things to be really disjointed … and so as the coordinator the main job is to understand what every aspect is doing and how each fits together and make sure that all the parts work.

PN: So, a lot of administrative things?

SR: Yeah, being the go-to person in case faculty have questions about YSP or different organizations are interested in working with YSP. Instead of contacting all the volunteers, it's easier to go through one centralized person.

PN: Why did you decide to accept this position?

SR: YSP was one of the reasons I wanted to come to WashU to begin with, so my first year I just got as involved as I could. The more involved I became, the more I enjoyed it. And I like knowing what's going on with all of the different programs because I think they're all equally wonderful. It seemed like a really awesome way for me to be able to stay involved in all the programs. And, it gives me an opportunity to focus more on some things that are more personal to me but still be able to participate in all of them.

PN: You said all components and programs of YSP are equally wonderful, but could you describe some that you are most excited about?

SR: I think it's easiest to be excited about the Summer Focus Program because that's when you have the most interaction with our target audience – the students. These high school students get so excited about science and you can see them progress from week 1 to week 8. So I think that's the program that gets people the most excited, but I've been working a lot with TRP and the teaching kits. And the more I work with those programs, the more I see just how useful things like that are; you can see how important resources are for the teachers or all the hurdles they have to jump through to get these exciting things to their high school students. It's pretty fun to try to think what would get a high school student excited if you were going to bring in a demo to their classroom.

PN: Could you describe some topics that these teaching kits cover? I feel like it's one of the less publicized aspect of YSP.

SR: It is a new development that we started to initiate. At first it was just a bunch of volunteers brainstorming things we thought would be fun to do, things that would be easily accessible. So we started out with DNA extraction from fruit, and that's a pretty standard experiment. Lots of students have done it. And our challenge was to figure out a way to get the resources in a form that was sustainable so that classrooms that maybe didn't have a refrigerator to keep the strawberries could still do these experiments. We were able to work out using preserved fruit instead of fresh fruit. It's all those little things that we didn't realize would be hurdles! We like to keep them within household items; students really can relate to that. Science you can do in your kitchen is kind of fun because science often seems like one of those things you can't wrap your head around. The DNA extraction and surface tension [using soap and pepper] are two kits that we have and they're working out pretty well. And, they have DVDs in them that explain how the experiments are supposed to work. We're actually getting ready to load them on YouTube so that we can disseminate them more broadly. In the works now are making a battery out of lemons … and there are some volunteers working on kits involving osmosis and also some more physical science (wave motion and pendulum action). And we're also working in collaboration with a TRP Program teacher to develop a kit for environmental science about soil and water purity and the different properties of soil that make it useful for some plants.

And, as a group of volunteers, we're just thinking about what's cool. But what we want to be thinking is what's most useful to the St. Louis Public School system. Something we want to do is try to tailor these kits to Missouri curriculum standards so that it will be easier for teachers to implement these kits in their classrooms. So we try to ask teachers during the summer who participate in TRP, "What are the most difficult concepts you have engaging your students on, what are the most boring or the least fun things you have to do every year?" And then we as creative scientists can figure out a way to address those in a more fun way than a textbook.

PN: Could you talk about what some of the biggest challenges you foresee for YSP in the upcoming year?

SR: Our biggest challenge right now is funding. We were fortunate to have a large grant with HHMI, and now that's running out. We have a lot of applications with private and national organizations, and I think we're a very unique program so we're competitive for these outreach-oriented funding opportunities. We need to start collating all of our evaluation materials and synthesizing how effective we've been, showing we're an organization worthy of their dollars. And then the next biggest hurdle, which I also think is a blessing, is that YSP is growing – more people who want to participate some way in YSP. This is the first year that YSP has participated in the SLPS [St. Louis Public School] Professional Development Day, and that day we were able to talk to every high school science teacher who teaches in St. Louis. So, we've increased the number of teachers who may want teaching teams to visit them, who may want to participate in TRP, who will encourage their students to participate in Summer Focus, and who will be asking to use these teaching kits that we develop for them. I think as our initiatives grow, demand also grows. I think our next big hurdle will be to maintain the quality of our outreach that we've been doing on a small scale as demand is growing. But, that's a great problem to have! The volunteers are excited and passionate, and if any organization can hone in the volunteer base to meet these demands, it's definitely YSP.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

YSP 2011 Fall Nano Medical School Features Dr. Ellen Lockhart

The YSP Fall Nano Medical School on Tuesday, December 6th featured a talk given by Dr. Ellen Lockhart entitled "“Anesthesia During Labor and Delivery”. Dr. Lockhartreceived her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and her medical degree from the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical School in 1993. She completed a residency in Anesthesiology at Washington University School of Medicine where she served as chief resident, followed by a fellowship in Obstetric Anesthesia at Duke University. She is currently an Associate Professor and Vice Chairman in the Department of Anesthesiology. Her clinical activity includes the care of patients on the general and obstetric anesthesia services at Barnes-Jewish and Missouri Baptist Hospitals, and in the center for preoperative assessment and planning. Her research interests include the diagnosis and clinical outcomes obstructive sleep apnea during pregnancy.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Women in Science Day 2011

Written by Peggy Ni – YSP volunteer

On November 2nd, 2011, YSP and the St. Louis chapter of the Association for Women in Science hosted the 5th annual Women in Science Day. This one-day event brings high school girls from the St. Louis Public School District to the Washington University Danforth and Medical School campuses. On this day, the students attend panel discussions to hear from medical school students and scientists in different stages of their careers about why they followed the career paths they are currently on, how they got to where they are right now, and what to expect in medical school or graduate school. Additionally, a series of activities were planned for the students to choose and participate in including demonstrations in chemistry, computer science, earth and planetary science, ecology, evolution, forensics, genetics, neuroscience, physics and tours of the anesthesiology simulator, the neuroimaging lab, and the microbiology lab.

The panel sessions presented an incredibly unique opportunity for the students to learn about careers in medicine or research directly from the people in these fields. In the Med School 101 Panel that I observed, a group of 4 medical students representing the range of different options one could pursue in this career path (for instance, one panelist was doing a research year, another was applying for residency positions), introduced themselves and answered questions. Some of the issues the high school students were very interested in and asked about included whether it would be a good idea to take time off between college and medical school, what the hardest part of medical school was, and what an MD/PhD program is. In turn, the panelists gave great advice to the students, suggesting that getting a job in the years between college and medical school would be a great way to experience real life after roughly 16 years of being a student. Additionally, one panelist talked about her experiences shadowing people to see what being in medicine is like and explained that doing this after college would be beneficial for knowing whether to even pursue medical school. If the girls interested in medicine were hoping to escape taking tests in their futures, they were disappointed as the panelists agreed that exams were probably the hardest part about medical school. Another difficult aspect that was brought up that I never thought about is figuring out what to do after medical school and which area to specialize in. Luckily, these girls have the rest of high school and plenty of time and life experiences before needing to make that decision!

Likewise, the Career Panel invited women in science from diverse specialties and different stages in their lives. For instance, the panel had experience and could offer words of wisdom in physical therapy to nursing to market research. Additionally, we got to hear from people in established jobs versus someone still at school. What I thought was a helpful part of the session was when the panelists talked about the details that high school students could relate to – such as what they liked and disliked about their jobs, the hours of work that were expected, and even general life advice (make good friends who will study with you and push you yet support you). All in all, Women in Science Day was a successful event that offered a glimpse of what science would be like for high school girls contemplating their futures after graduation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November Volunteers of the Month: Molly Gibson and Jamie Kwasnieski

Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

Recently, YSP launched its new website, prompted mainly by feedback received at the 20th Anniversary celebration, including insightful comments from many of the day's renowned speakers. Both conceptually and technologically different, the current version now has a greater focus on the student-run aspect of YSP to better promote the group – as suggested by Dr. Bruce Alberts – and has become easier to run and more compatible with Internet browsers. Molly Gibson and Jamie Kwasnieski are two YSP volunteers who rose to the challenge of designing and launching the new website. It seems Molly and Jamie were perfect for this task, as both have experience with computer science and were excited by the creative outlet this web design project would provide.

From their initial ideas to the actual launch date, approximately 3 months were invested in the website. Jamie credits Albert Mao, who created YSP's previous website, for the original structure and content that made her and Molly's lives much easier since it provided a foundation to build on. That being said, significant time and effort were put in to thoroughly consider the direction to take in order to make the site better. For instance, a priority of the new version was to make it easy for all target audiences of YSP – namely students, teachers, and volunteers – to access information. Thus, Molly and Jamie decided to integrate sliding pictures on the main page for visitors to find the information they need. Ease of access was also increased by building the website from a web template found at that allows all browsers to support the site. Additionally, the website has become a lot more interactive, with pictures of volunteers and quotes featured on the sides of the pages as well as links to Facebook and YouTube on the top. These features allow viewers to read what the student director has to say or listen to the history of YSP from one of its founders and thus truly understand and appreciate that YSP is a volunteer-run group. This emphasis on the student-run aspect is Molly's favorite part of the new website. "The passion of the volunteers is truly what makes an organization like YSP so successful," she says.

Moving forward, Jamie reveals that she and Molly are working on an additional feature of the website that specifically targets teachers in the St. Louis Public Schools system. "I am excited about this idea, because I think it will help YSP engage new teachers, thus becoming a more effective organization," Molly says. Currently, both Jamie and Molly maintain the website. They have cleverly designed it so that updating it is easy and effortless. For instance, the News and Events page is actually a feed from the blog. When other people in the future take on the responsibilities of site maintenance, Jamie and Molly have set up an efficient system for a seamless transition!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Interview with Dr. Matthew Ndonwi - YSP's October Volunteer of the Month

Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

Peggy Ni: How did you get involved with YSP in the first place?

Matthew Ndonwi: The very first time I got involved was when Jen Mosher sent out some sort of notice for volunteers for the TRP program, and that was way back in 2007 or so.

PN: And could you talk about what you do for the TRP program as well as Winning Young Hearts and Minds?

MN: For the TRP program, initially I started as a mentor for one of the teachers when I first joined TRP – and actually I did that twice. And then subsequently I joined the Organizing Committee. And since then, I have been part of that committee helping with recruiting teachers, interviewing them, placing them in labs, taking part in all the programs throughout the summer while they are here. Sometimes I also help with the Summer Focus program, like part of the Boot Camp. On the other side is Winning Young Hearts and Minds, a program that I started. I think what really inspired me to initiate that program was the fact that I realized most of our YSP programs are hands-on, trying to bring in these students by hands-on work. But I also felt the need to kind of engage them in dialogue. It's a 1 hour interactive PowerPoint, and I've also adapted it to 30 min. Initially it was meant as 1 hour for high school students but when I started presenting it, then it became so popular that I felt like 30 min. [would be good] for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. It's kind of a 3-part presentation. The first part of the presentation is trying to get the students introduced to science – demystify science from what, at the time I meet them, they think science is, trying to get them to see practical aspects rather than just what they see in movies which is not an accurate presentation. So I walk them through a series of different careers and then somewhere in the middle of the talk I engage them into what the call of science really is, … the different subjects they study in school – math, biology, and physics. And I kind of give them tips on how they can become any of the scientists in those various careers. And finally, I use myself as an example … of what I'm trying to encourage them to do. Despite every obstacle that they might have ahead of them in starting science, it's something that's doable. So I kind of just tell them my personal story of how I became a scientist.

PN: How often do you do this presentation?

MN: So, I wouldn't say it's very regular. Sometimes we'll have high seasons or low seasons. What I would say is for every year I do about maybe 10 to 20 outings since I started. So I present to students who come here for field trips, I go to classrooms, and there is collaboration with the Science Center. … And most recently I was contacted by Harris-Stowe to go present to them, and that was just last week. It's interesting – it started as a high school thing that has gone down to middle-school and now freshmen in college.

PN: Well, clearly the message is broadly applicable.

MN: Exactly

PN: Can you tell me about your most memorable experience while volunteering?

MN: I would say every year my most memorable experience with the program is when the Summer Focus students present their research. I think that's outstanding – to see them come in kind of naïve and see them go out like almost polished scientists when you listen to them present their talk. I don't think there's anything stronger than that.

PN: You've been volunteering for 4 years. Throughout the years, how do you find the time to still remain committed year after year?

MN: Initially, the main thing that attracted me to the program is the interest in the program. I don't think that interest can be taken away. I'm a full time researcher as well – and I do teach one course in the fall and one course in the summer – but … research is one of those things that are really flexible.

PN: Is there anything new you want to incorporate with the TRP Organizing Committee or with your presentation in the upcoming future?

MN: With the Presentation … I think over the past 4 years I've kind of improved it every year but the main thing that I really want to do is to see how I can capture more people … so what I was thinking of is to set up a website where I could incorporate maybe resources for students … [and] a video streaming of the presentation

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

YSP Summer Focus Program - Applications Now Available

Applications for the YSP Summer Focus Program are now available to download on our YSP website through this link:

Summer Focus provides outstanding high school students with funded research internships at the Washington University Medical Center. Each student works directly with two graduate students, the mentor and the tutor. The mentor works one-on-one with the student in the lab on a specific project, while the tutor prepares the student for their research experience. In order to be eligible a student must currently be a junior in High School and attend a St. Louis City/County/Metro area school.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fostering diversity in science and public science literacy

Our YSP student director, Kate Chiappinelli, wrote an article on YSP for ASBMB Today (AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR BIOCHEMISTRY AND MOLECULAR BIOLOGY). It appears in the October edition of this publication and also on their website.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

YSP and St. Louis Science Center Offer 5th Installment of Family Med School Basics

Back by popular demand, YSP and the St. Louis Science Center have partnered once again to present Family Med School Basics. In its fifth year, Family Med School Basics offers 4 hands-on medical training sessions for children, 5th grade and older and their families. Participants learn about human anatomy and physiology as well as disease through demonstrations provided by the YSP Anatomy teaching team. To coincide with the Body World and the Brain exhibit currently featured at the Science Center our first session focused on the brain and nervous system. YSP volunteers consisting of graduate/medical students, postdocs, and undergraduate students presented demonstrations to a full capacity group on Brain Anatomy, Visual Distortion, Proprioception, and Tactile Sensation. Additional sessions of Family Med School Basics will be held at the Science Center from 1:30-3:30 pm on September 24th (heart and cardiovascular system), October 29th (lungs and respiratory system), and November 19th (digestive system).

Monday, August 29, 2011

Spotlight on the Chemistry Teaching Team

Written by Peggy Ni - YSP Volunteer

I recently sat down with Carl Franz, who is a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Molecular Microbiology Department and head of the Young Scientist Program's Chemistry Teaching Team, to learn more about the kinds of demos he and his fellow volunteers put on and why he dedicates his spare time doing this. In general, the demos can be split into two types. One is metaphorical, in which non-chemical items are used to represent a chemical reaction. For instance, there is a demo, "Toothpick-ase," that teaches the students how enzymes find their substrates. The students' hands are the enzyme, and the toothpicks are the substrate. The enzyme "catalyzes" its substrate when the students use their hands to break the toothpicks. Decreased temperature slows down catalysis, which is symbolized when the students must break the toothpicks in cold water. The second type of demos involves actual chemical reactions, but these experiments utilize common items that can be found around the house. "That way, students can relate to these things, as opposed to having something like sodium dodecyl sulfate," Carl explains. One example Carl says is particularly popular among the students is using hard boiled eggs to tarnish silver, a process that occurs as a result of the sulfur in the eggs which is similar to the atmospheric sulfur that convert silver to a dull, dark color over time. Carl says that the students get really excited by this demo because the results are so visual, allowing them to truly appreciate why, for instance, Grandma polishes the silver every year. Carl has some ideas for future experiments that could possibly be implemented in future outings. One that he's done in the past with a different organization involves collecting french fries from different fast food places and then extracting saturated fat from them. The amount of fat can then be quantitated and compared amongst the various restaurants. This demo goes along perfectly with the other chemistry demos since it is similarly easy for the kids to relate to, as I am sure we all go to fast food places every now and then.

So, why is it so important that there are volunteers willing to be a part of teaching teams like the chemistry one to go on these outings and explain how science works to students? Carl provides some of his reasons that may also resonate with other volunteers. He genuinely likes working with young students and thinks it is a worthwhile goal to perform demos so that students can take away a tidbit of knowledge from them. He admits that he (and, I am sure, most scientists) does hope to convert students into becoming future scientists. But, he believes that it is not the most important thing. Rather, it is crucial to teach students the scientific method and critical thinking skills so that they can intelligently tackle controversial topics such as vaccination, global warming, and evolution. With such a huge divide between people who believe that vaccination is necessary and that global warming and evolution occur versus those who maintain that it is not important or that they do not exist, it's important for these kids – many who will be leaders of the next generation – to sort out what is true and then implement sound science policy. Even if the kids don't have careers directly related to science in their futures, Carl maintains that what the teaching team teaches is still applicable. "You don't have to be a scientist by career to put the scientific method in your life," Carl says. The hard work and efforts of YSP teaching teams play a huge role in allowing students to navigate the media intelligently and think critically about scientific topics as well as other subjects in general, imparting an invaluable life lesson to these students.