Summer outreach programs inform and inspire
By Steven Schultz
Princeton NJ -- While many Princeton faculty members and undergrad-uates cleared out for the summer, dozens of students and teachers from other schools found that the best place to recharge their enthusiasm and gain valuable experiences was here on campus.
"I think this experience has really broadened my horizons," said Danielle Martinez, a senior at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown. Martinez was one of 21 undergraduates from around the country who participated in Research Experience for Undergraduates, a summer program run by the Princeton Materials Institute.
The program, geared toward students from schools that do not offer independent research opportunities, particularly in materials science, aims to introduce participants to the excitement of laboratory research and give them a sneak preview into life in graduate school.
A biology major, Martinez had planned to go to graduate school in a biomedical field, but is now considering chemical engineering and materials science as well. She and Jonathan Schieman of St. John's University spent their summer joining animal cells to tiny synthetic particles and studying their interaction as part of a collaboration between the labs of Jeffrey Carbeck in chemical engineering and Jean Schwarzbauer in molecular biology.
"There are so many possibilities available to me now, and I just realized that this summer," said Martinez.
Research Experience for Undergraduates is funded by a variety of grants from the National Science Foundation, the Princeton Materials Institute and the Princeton Center for Complex Materials.
In molecular biology, high school and middle school teachers participated in two weeks of intensive training in techniques of DNA manipulation. They also found that the experience gave them a new appreciation of their subject and new ideas for conveying it to their students.
"I learned more in the last two weeks than I had in the last 10 years," said Mimi McClure, a teacher from Apopka, Fla. "This lets you take it from an ethereal idea in a book and bring it to the level of applied science that students can touch."
The teachers, mostly from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, performed DNA fingerprinting of their own cells and tested for genetically modified ingredients in foods they selected from the grocery store. The techniques they learned are some of the basic skills used by advanced students in molecular biology, said senior lecturer Karen Malatesta, who leads the program along with outreach coordinator Ann Sliski.
The Outreach Program, now in its 12th year, is sponsored by the Department of Molecular Biology and funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The University recently received a renewed four-year grant for $1.9 million, which also funds summer laboratory experience and new teaching initiatives for undergraduates (see story on page 5 of the Sept. 9 Princeton Weekly Bulletin).
To aid in translating the experience to the classroom, the molecular biology program allows teacher-graduates to borrow kits with all the supplies they need to perform the experiments in their classrooms.
The workshop made a big difference for Pat Sidelsky of Lenape Regional Schools in Burlington County, N.J., who participated in 2000 and returned this year as a computing instructor and to share her experiences with participants. "You can involve not just the classroom but the whole community," she said. "We brought the parents right into the classroom, and the kids taught their parents. It's great for the students and it helps increase the support for science education -- and it all came from Princeton. Without this program, we wouldn't be able to do so many of these experiments."
The molecular biology and materials programs were just two of several outreach programs in science across the University. In chemistry, two high school teachers spent part of the summer conducting laboratory research alongside faculty members and graduate students. At the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, high school teachers from around the country participated in a two-week workshop on plasma physics and fusion energy, as did 12 Trenton-area high school students. In addition, 20 undergraduates from around the country conducted research in plasma physics as part of a 10-week summer fellowship.
The Teacher Preparation Program played host to 57 elementary school teachers and 11 middle school teachers for a two-week session that included science workshops in the Princeton Environmental Institute and the materials institute. Teacher Prep also ran the Princeton Prep program for high school students (see related story on page 1).
Because of the great range of outreach efforts on campus, Teacher Prep is establishing a Universitywide Science Education Consortium that will support and help coordinate the programs, said Anne Catena, outreach coordinator.
Editor: Ruth Stevens