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Teachers work to make research real for students

Two Kannapolis teachers are spending their summer break at the N.C. Research Campus. April Baucom and Nikki Wolcott, science teachers at A.L. Brown High School, are accustomed to working in academic environments, but the Research Campus offers a unique opportunity to connect their students with real-world science at its best.

Baucom and Wolcott have been working at the Research Campus since the spring, picking blackberries and raspberries at the Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury, assisting with a national study on watermelon health benefits, and learning in state-of-the-art labs with Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, a researcher with N.C. State University’s Plants for Human Health Institute.

As Baucom summarizes: “I’ve learned a lot!”

Between stirring slushy watermelon samples, Baucom and Wolcott explain that bridging the gap between their students and the Research Campus is the top priority. “Some students don’t see working at the Research Campus as an option,” says Baucom, who teaches honors and AP biology. Adds Wolcott, an earth and environmental science teacher, “Students hear ‘biotechnology’ and think it’s not possible.”

They agree it is an outlook that needs to change.

Embedding themselves in the Research Campus culture for three months now, they are gaining a unique understanding of what is taking place at the life sciences hub and preparing to bring it back to the students. The process involves a little learning on their part as well.

Both teachers are currently assisting Perkins-Veazie with a study that seeks to identify lycopene content in watermelons. In layman’s terms, the body oxidizes as it ages, like rust on a car. Antioxidants – like the red pigment lycopene – can slow down the oxidization process, thus helping keep age-related diseases, such as cancers, at bay. “This has given me a chance to hone my lab skills,” says Wolcott. “I didn’t know much of this was possible.”

The learning experience is mutually beneficial, according to Perkins-Veazie. She says the experience “has been a revelation for me. They’re helping me understand student and teacher needs so we can further integrate school systems with the research taking place here in Kannapolis.”

Putting local teachers in labs at the Research Campus is a unique educational outreach, but linking Kannapolis City Schools (KCS) and other educational systems with the campus has been an ongoing effort. The Plants for Human Health Institute has welcomed 16 interns this summer, in addition to an internship program with South Rowan High School that has been in place since 2009. Perkins-Veazie and others on campus are members of the KCS Strategic Planning Committee, which earlier this year developed the 2015 Strategic Plan – strategic goals that will guide KCS over the next five years. “There’s been a lot of receptiveness from the local school system,” says Perkins-Veazie.

Baucom and Wolcott hope to make the research more real for their students by gaining firsthand knowledge that could lead to new collaborative opportunities.

“We are constantly trying to make connections with the Research Campus,” says Wolcott. “It’s an awesome resource.”

“It’s been a great experience and something I’d like to continue,” adds Baucom.

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Media Contact: Leah Chester-Davis, coordinator of communications and community outreach, N.C. MarketReady, 704-250-5406,

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