UMASS LABS FOR WORCESTER AREA HIGH SCHOOLS
North High school students surround Christine Oslowski (holding test tube) and are rapt as she shows them the results of their hands-on experiment in the lab of Fumihiko Urano, MD, PhD, (far left).
Christine Oslowski stands in a UMass Medical School research lab surrounded by high school students who hang on her every word. A second-year student in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Oslowski is describing the steps the students will take to transform circularized double-stranded DNA molecules. As the experiment progresses, they get it, a testament to Oslowski’s preparation for their visit.
Oslowski can relate to them on another level—like these sophomores, juniors and seniors, she was once a student at Worcester’s North High School who visited a lab at UMMS through the same program they are participating in. Each year, more than 200 Advanced Placement (AP) Biology students from the four public high schools in Worcester attend UMass Labs for Worcester Area High Schools, the brainchild of Professor of Molecular Medicine Stephen Doxsey, PhD, and North High science teacher Jane Raabis. UMass Labs has grown from cell mitosis experiments in Dr. Doxsey’s lab to three other AP-specified hands-on projects in the labs of 16 UMMS scientists. In 2007, Doxsey received a University of Massachusetts President’s Public Service Award in recognition of the program’s outreach to additional students.
Oslowski always liked science and her own high school trip to UMMS answered questions she had about how a real lab functions. Now as an instructor for the students who visit the lab of Associate Professor of Molecular Medicine Fumihiko Urano, MD, PhD, Oslowski is an in-the-flesh example of someone who has emerged from high school and college to train at the graduate level as a basic science researcher. Several students said the North High graduate inspired them.
“They saw someone whose hard work has paid off, giving way to a very bright future in science,” said Raabis. “I’m sure Christine had no idea that she really had a profound impact on the females in the class.”
“The students are exposed to scientists and see that we are normal people. They also see that this is a professional setting. And they come to value science and learn its importance,” said Oslowski.
Dr. Urano is sold on the UMass Labs program for that very reason. “My primary purpose is to tell high school students that scientists are the creators of the future,” said Urano. “By showing them new technology and providing new information, I believe they will be more motivated as students. And in the future, this will come back to all of us in society,” through the support that results from scientific awareness and breakthroughs that impact disease.
"The UMass Labs program brings to Worcester high school students the opportunity to step off the bus into a research environment where they can try their hand at an experiment, get the real dope on research through conversations with graduate students and take a drive on state-of-the-art equipment." -Stephen Doxsey, PhD
Raabis accompanies her AP Biology students to UMMS; they are taking the class to potentially place in higher level science courses in college. The UMass Labs experience is invaluable for these future scholars, according to Raabis. “I’ve had kids come back from college and say science courses made much more sense because they had done it at the Medical School. This is the real deal and they remember this.” Raabis noted that all of the faculty and staff involved in the program “speak to the students on their level.”
In Doxsey’s lab, Research Associate and Lab Manager Sambra Redick spends hours preparing materials for the students’ visit. She attempts to connect basic science to patient outcomes in order to bring home the implications of the experiments. The students’ positive responses are evident in the form of two posters they created in thanks, now hanging in full view. “They tell us some of the most valuable information they learned is not in the AP book,” said Redick. “They also see that half of the lab is women—that’s important for the girls.”
Doxsey noted that the students find the program valuable for stretching their class lessons in a new direction. The academic, biotech and business sectors in Central Massachusetts potentially benefit as well, he added. “One could think of these students as home grown prospects for scientific research who might be enticed to seek careers in science in the Worcester area as they seriously consider what they would like to do with their lives.”
The students get to UMMS thanks to the work of Joseph Buckley Jr., Science & Technology Engineering Curriculum Liaison for the Worcester Public Schools, a more than 40-year veteran of the district and overseer of 41 schools and their science programs. The WPS provides funding for bus transportation to the labs. “Urban kids need so much; they need advocacy. You have to build that and then support it,” he said of his role. “If you are going to have high quality students, you must have a diversity of educational experiences.
“The UMass Labs program is absolutely wonderful for our students,” Buckley added. “They would never have the experience of having a facility and contact with people who do research without it. UMass Medical School is a cornerstone resource for us.”
Worcester Public Schools science initiatives
This information appears in the UMMS 2008 Annual Report. PDF available.