Duarte Unified School District classrooms are just a few blocks from City of Hope, yet for some Duarte students, the road to becoming a scientist can seem a world away. A new grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) promises to bring this world within their reach.
Susan Kane, left, oversees a grant that will help bring science to local high school students. (Photo by Paula Myers)
The five-year, $1.3 million grant comes from the NIH’s Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program, which aims to encourage partnerships between scientists and community leaders, including educators.
“One of the things really lacking in the profession of science is a pipeline of students — particularly underrepresented minority students — who are enthusiastic about research,” said Susan Kane, Ph.D., professor in the Division of Tumor Cell Biology, who will oversee the SEPA grant. “Creating this pipeline is an attempt to help change the face of research.”
SEPA aims to raise public awareness about health issues and the relationship between science and health and, in doing so, help reduce health disparities. “As more underrepresented minorities become scientists and researchers, the hope is that their communities will become more educated about health and health-care resources and that more research will be done on the many factors contributing to health disparities,” Kane added.
SEPA Program Officer L. Tony Beck highlighted SEPA’s focus on boosting the public’s awareness of science. “Through these novel educational programs, SEPA aims to improve life science literacy in the U.S.,” he said. “SEPA-supported projects create partnerships among biomedical and clinical researchers and K-12 teachers and schools, museums and science centers, media experts and other educational organizations.”
Kane and other City of Hope faculty began forging a partnership with the Duarte school district about five years ago, visiting classrooms of high school students and serving as resources for teachers and advisors on laboratory projects. They also invited biology and chemistry students to tour City of Hope labs every year.
This summer, 20 students who will be juniors and seniors next fall will work in City of Hope’s Community Teaching Laboratory. This closely-supervised setting will help students enter the scientific world, as they work on real experiments and generate new data.
Next fall, Kane and her colleagues will expand their outreach efforts by visiting second-grade classrooms in Duarte and bringing fifth and eighth graders onto the City of Hope campus, tailoring presentations for each grade level. For instance, when facing an audience of second graders, researchers will need to explain what a scientist is and perhaps demonstrate a simple experiment to get youngsters enthused about science. “The hope is by the time they get to high school, they’re already excited about science and ready to participate in our summer program,” said Kane, “and then maybe even pursue science as a major in college and research as a career.
“When I was that age I don’t think I had a concept of what a scientist was or that research was something you could do as a career,” recalled Kane. “We’re eager to open the world up to these kids and potentially excite some of them to think about doing research as a career — and as a passion.”
NIH Office of the Director grant: #OD010513