Students and Researchers Work Side-by-Side at Rockefeller University
By Marie Holmes
Vosshall, Annenberg Assistant Professor at Rockefeller University,
is delivering a lecture on the groundbreaking work done by researchers
Linda Buck and Richard Axel, which opened a new chapter in our
understanding of the sense of smell. An expert in this particular
field of inquiry, Vosshall points at images of olfactory neurons
(which are located above the eyes, not in the nose) and employs
vocabulary terms that a layperson would likely not recognize,
much less comprehend, as though she were delivering a lecture
to colleagueswhich, for all intents and purposes, she is. It
just so happens that all 50 of these colleagues are teenagers.
modeling the Socratic method, Vosshall guides them through to
the conclusions. One student suggests an explanation to a question
raised by Buck and Axels discoveries, articulating what Vosshall
confirms is a very popular theory. Another proposes a method
of investigation. If youd been in the lab [in the 1990s], Vosshall
informs her, you would have been doing that experiment yourself.
July and August, and in some cases on into the school year as
well, these students, along with a dozen K-12 teachers are,
in fact, participating in mentored laboratory research.
the Precollege Science Education Program was established in
1992, only a few studentsand only from Stuyvesant or Bronx Sciencewould
be doing research here, says Dr. Bonnie Kaiser, Program Director.
There was always a desire to increase the diversity as well
as recruit more under-represented and disadvantaged students.
students interested in mentoring hand-select their mentees from
a large pool of applicants. The program has become so popular
in recent years that only one in five are offered a summer position
its NIH funding stopped a couple of years ago, the program remains
tuition-free and continues to offer stipends to all participating
teachers and some students with the help of private and corporate
donations. We do fund every returning student and every disadvantaged
student, Kaiser proudly reports.
the program has gained recognition and built relationships with
more local teachers, its students have become an increasingly
diverse group. The current student body is half-female. A number
are under-represented minorities, and/or qualify as economically,
socially, or educationally disadvantaged.
commit to spending two summers at the university. Over the course
of their second summer, they draft an action plan for bringing
their knowledge of inquiry-based learning practices back to
their own schools. A teacher might use grant money to run a
professional development workshop in his or her own district,
or to purchase the equipment to perform electrophoresis experiments
with a biology class. Past teachers have established AP Biology
and Molecular Biology courses.
come from other states and even other countries to participate
in the program. Last year the university hosted a teacher from
Moscow. This summer, Teach for America teachers working in Oakland,
California and a Navajo reservation in New Mexico are participating.
Tan Aik Ling, a high school biology teacher in Singapore, is
also working with a mentor in the labs. Students in Singapore,
notes Kaiser, boast the worlds highest scores on math and science
for the students in the program, not surprisingly, the majority
go on to college. Most have pursued their work in the sciences,
entering M.D., Ph.D. and dual-degree programs across the country.
When we first started, says Kaiser, we were looking for students
who had staying power, who were not just looking for something
to put on their college applications. Mentors selected those
who really love being here. Some returned for graduate study,
having attended college elsewhere. Yelena Fishilevich, a postdoctoral
student and former outreach student, now has a mentee of her
students learn very quickly, says Kaiser, theyre highly self-motivated.
Their stories are also the products of what she describes as
the purest conditions for great mentoringgreat resources. #