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Students shine in STEM programs

August 2, 2013

Where are you likely to find 15 teenagers on a hot Sunday afternoon in July? The pool? The mall? The park? How about standing in the atrium of Indiana University Bloomington’s Jordan Hall, explaining results of their latest laboratory experiments to an attentive crowd?

On Sunday, July 21, Jordan Hall—home to the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences Department of Biology—was buzzing as participants in the Jim Holland Summer Science Research Program hosted a poster session to show off projects to family, friends, and IU faculty.

The SSRP program (formerly known as the Lilly Scholars Program) is aimed at fostering STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) interests among upper-level minority high-school students in Indiana and exposing them to the culture of academic research.

Mary Ann Tellas, a teacher at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis, co-directs the program. “Our hope is that students will understand the process of research and have the desire to one day be contributors to scientific advances,” she said.

The program builds on the Biology Department’s longstanding Jim Holland Summer Enrichment Program, which offers minority students in 8th-10th grades a one-week introduction to life sciences at IU Bloomington. Both programs are named in honor of the late James P. Holland, a professor of biology at IU Bloomington widely remembered for his devotion to teaching and mentoring minority students.

SSRP participants are drawn from the top students who take part in the first-year Summer Enrichment program, explains Armin Moczek, associate professor of biology at IU Bloomington. Moczek co-directs the SSRP with Tellas and also helps to direct the Summer Enrichment Program.

“The SSRP allows the top 15 to 20 students to come back the next year for a one-week intensive internship in a specific laboratory,” he said.

More than 30 faculty and staff members in the IU Biology Department are involved in the program. “Their commitment is definitely a key to the program’s success,” Tellas said.

SSRP participant Alexis Palmer, from South Holland, Ind., worked in the lab of Yves Brun (Clyde Culbertson Professor of biology) studying the Caulobacter crescentus bacterium. She examined the effect of oxygen levels on C. crescentus as well as whether signaling proteins affect the bacterium’s growth. Her results showed that signaling proteins do affect C. crescentus growth and that the signaling proteins display a regulated localization pattern within a cell. Palmer suggested that further research related to her line of study could help shed light on the behavior of other cells, such as stem cells.

Standing by a large poster outlining her work, Palmer delivered a polished presentation after a rigorous week of study and preparation. “Whenever we had some free time when we might go out and play,” Palmer said, “we told each other, no, we’ve got to practice presenting to each other.’”

Both Holland outreach programs play a major role in inspiring new generations of minority scientists, noted Martin McCrory, vice provost for educational inclusion and diversity and associate vice president for diversity equity and multicultural affairs at IU. Years ago, McCrory said, his own son took part in the Summer Enrichment program and went on to receive his B.S. in chemistry and math at IU Bloomington, followed by a Ph.D. in chemistry from Stanford University.

“To this day,” McCrory said, “he thinks the Summer Enrichment Program was a defining moment in his development as a scientist.”Martin McCrory visits the SSRP poster session

McCrory added that both Holland programs advance the development of young minority students.

“These talented young scientists discussed their research in such clear detail,” he said, commenting on the poster session which he attended. “I was so impressed by the level of dialogue. Their conversations illustrated both the high caliber of students in the program and the dedication of the instructors involved in the SSRP.”

The July 21 SSRP poster session was timed to overlap with the first day of the Summer Enrichment Program so that incoming students new to scientific research could get a glimpse of what was to come. Quinn-Michael L’Heureux, of Fort Wayne, Ind., was eager to talk with the younger students. Shaking hands and grinning widely, L’Heureux told students gathered by his poster to “stick around, ‘cause I’ve got some things to tell you.”

L’Heureux worked in the laboratory of program co-director Moczek, studying sexual dimorphism among beetles. L’Heureux looked at the function of a gene named doublesex, which is thought to play a role in the regulation of sex differences in insects such as differences in the relative sizes of legs or levels of aggressive behavior. His results showed that the doublesex gene does regulate sex dimorphism in beetle leg length, but does not explain variation in aggression among male beetles.

“Quinn came up with findings that we hadn’t known before,” said Moczek, whose lab specializes in the study of evolutionary and developmental biology of insects.

There’s no doubt that the program has impact on the students as well as on science. Moczek noted that in the four years the SSRP program has been running (three of them as the Lilly Scholars Program), the program has had 66 participants, 64 of whom went on to postsecondary education.

The program is a boon to IU, too: 46% of participants chose to attend IU and 53% of them selected a STEM discipline as their major.

“This program does a major service in increasing minority participation in the sciences, especially at IU,” said Moczek. “These kids are on fire, and they will go places, all of them. It’s pretty thrilling to see.”

 

The James Holland Summer Enrichment Program (http://www.bio.indiana.edu/community/precollege/holland_ssrp.shtml) is made possible by the IU College of Arts & Sciences; Indiana University Department of Biology; IU Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs; and Cook Inc. The 2013 Summer Science Research Program was funded by a National Science Foundation grant to Armin Moczek, with additional support from the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences and the IU Department of Biology. Both programs are co-administered by Moczek, Tellas, and Jennifer Tarter, administrative assistant to the chair in the Biology Department .

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