This summer, 56 high-school rising juniors and seniors got a healthy dose of university-level education – not to mention college course credit – as they participated in the 2013 Summer College in Biotechnology and Life Sciences (SCIBLS) at N.C. State University. Designed as an academic experience, not a summer camp, SCIBLS is offered annually as a challenging experience for college-bound students interested in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related college major.
Sponsored by N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), the four-week SCIBLS program gives participants valuable and unique opportunities to take a college-level course; work in state-of-the-art laboratories; visit biotechnology research and production facilities at N.C. State, Research Triangle Park and other locales near Raleigh; and live in on-campus housing and experience day-to-day college life.
Students were housed at N.C. State’s Honors Village and were issued a student ID, which allowed them access to the university’s libraries and Student Center, as they experienced a fast-paced academic environment.
This year’s course offerings included three options: Introduction to Molecular Biology gave students the opportunity to isolate, amplify and express genes using modern techniques. Introduction to Microbiology and Biochemistry Laboratory Practices taught basic concepts and techniques of bacterial isolation and identification, isolation and analysis of DNA and proteins, and enzyme assays. And Introduction to Microbial Biotechnology included a hands-on laboratory introduction to basic microbiology and biotechnology tools and experiences, coupled with data analysis and interpretation.
The intensive coursework took place from July 8 to August 2 and included classes/labs conducted from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. On July 20, the students participated in local farm tours.
At the end of the coursework, on August 2, student teams presented scientific research posters and described their hands-on activities working in biotechnology and life sciences disciplines. These posters were displayed at the lobby of the Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC) on N.C. State’s Centennial Campus.
Among some of the projects presented in posters at the BTEC were “DNA Extraction and Identification of Unknown Bacteria,” wherein students Ojaswita Singh and Jada Richardson Small were able to determine the size of DNA strands in unknown bacteria; “Every Rose Has its Barcode,” in which Erin Heimann and Isabel Marrero used DNA barcoding to accurately match a hybrid tearose to its correct genomic family; “Escherichia coli: Both a Beneficial Bacteria and a Deadly Pathogen,” a food-safety related study by Jeannine Cormier, Makala Moore and Anna Peterson; “Bacillus Anthracis as a Biological Weapon,” Lauren Sapp’s and Taylor Ferguson’s study of the history of the disease anthrax and its effects, treatment and potential as a danger to civilian populations; and “Applications of 3-D Printing in Modern-Day and Future Medicine,” Amanda Filippis’ and Rachel Slosman’s look at processes using “bio-ink” to create organic objects under similar principles used to make inorganic 3-D objects, with applications ranging from bone grafts and dental implants to veins, ears, arteries and kidneys.
These were among the numerous course activities students presented to their families and other visitors. The final day also included an information session, with parents hearing from representatives of the university and CALS’ Academic Programs.
CALS’ Julie Holder, SCIBLS coordinator, said, “I was very impressed with the students this year. They put forth a wonderful effort and were very mature in the handling of situations that were thrown at them.”
And, said Holder, “Their posters were awesome. When they came to get their posters from me, I asked each of them if they were ready to go home and they all said, no, they loved the program and loved it here.”
One student’s parent told Holder that her son “really seems to enjoy this new challenge. I think SCIBLS will pay huge dividends for him. We’ve been very impressed with how well the SCIBLS program is run.”
Dr. Vicki Martin, formerly of CALS Academic Programs and now assistant dean and professor of biological sciences in the new College of Sciences (COS), has watched the annual growth of the SCIBLS programs.
“One of the reasons I think this program is so successful and important is because it gives high school students an opportunity to become totally engaged in STEM education and research with their peers,” Martin said. “These kids get a taste of what college has to offer, and hopefully it excites their passions about science.”
The program also exposes students to “some of the grand challenges that society will be facing in their lifetimes (food production and safety, sustainable energy production, clean water, human health issues, and clean environment),” she said, noting that “students begin to think about ways to tackle these issues and where they might fit in terms of jobs.”
During the SCIBLS sessions, students met with faculty representatives from various departments in CALS and COS and went on a field trip to the CALS farms, Martin said.
“These activities were designed to enlighten students about the need for an educated workforce in a diversity of areas. Not everyone will be a doctor or a vet. There are equally important needs for a scientific workforce in many areas, and SCIBLS does an excellent job in demonstrating this point.”
She emphasized that SCIBLS enabled students to develop critical thinking skills, engage in scientific communication, participate in group learning, hear about career opportunities and become aware of the importance of networking.
“So, in addition to the scientific education they received, they began to develop and use important transferable skills,” Martin said. “Some of these students will continue on to college, and hopefully that will be N.C. State.”— Terri Leith
For more information about SCIBLS, go to: http://harvest.cals.ncsu.edu/academic/index.cfm?pageID=1975