Biotechnology outreach gets boost from faculty grant


SUMMARY: The mini-grant provides me with the equipment needed for inquiry-based lessons and collaborative research projects with K-12 partners. Dedicated equipment allows me the flexibility to coordinate with these partners. As such, relationships can be more easily established and sustained.

Taking On Tomorrow: Episode 7 - Inspiring Scientific Discovery

See how Assistant Professor of ISAT Dr. Stephanie Stockwell is using science to inspire discovery within her students in this installment of Taking On Tomorrow.

Posted by James Madison University on Thursday, March 3, 2016

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About this series:

Taking on Tomorrow was created to showcase the expertise, scholarship and research of faculty in all disciplines at Madison. A number of factors determine who will be in the spotlight at any given time and what aspect of their work will be highlighted. In this installment, we feature Dr. Stephanie Stockwell, assistant professor of integrated science and technology.

The entire Taking on Tomorrow series can be viewed on the Madison Scholar website.

Head and shoulder photo of Dr. Stockwell taken during an interview in her office.

The faculty senate, with support from the JMU administration, began a mini-grant program this past year to fund faculty initiatives that exemplify the university's vision, "To be the national model for the engaged university: engaged with ideas and the world."

One of the projects to receive funding was a proposal by Stephanie Stockwell, assistant professor of ISAT, to construct a biotechnology mobile lab comprised of the basic biotechnology equipment and student protective gear needed for on-site inquiry-based lessons.

Q: How has the mini-grant benefited your work?
A: The mini-grant provides me with the equipment needed for inquiry-based lessons and collaborative research projects with K-12 partners. Dedicated equipment allows me the flexibility to coordinate with these partners. As such, relationships can be more easily established and sustained.

Q: How do you think a biotechnology mobile lab will improve STEM education reform for both K-12 and higher education?
A: I am able to establish and maintain significant Citizen Science-inspired projects with community members. Sustained partnering will yield benefits to all involved—more inquiry-based lessons at the K-12 level, mentoring/leadership opportunities for JMU students, pedagogical collaboration and alignment between K-12 and JMU curricula, and the breakdown of barriers and stereotypes about pursuing advanced studies in STEM.

Q: How has your partnership with Harrisonburg High School worked?
A: I have taken on an extended (semester to year long) project with a biology teacher, Mr. Myron Blosser, at the Harrisonburg High School STEM Academy. We were engaged in a collaborative research project in which high school students isolate new strains of an agriculturally significant soil bacterium associated with soybean crops in the valley. JMU students help mentor the experience in addition to completing the more technically challenging follow-up DNA analysis of isolated strains.

Thus far, JMU students and I have traveled to HHS to help facilitate lab-based activities associated with the soil bacterium project. We have provided materials and equipment—some associated with the mobile lab—for the completion of these lessons/experiments.

Q: What types of equipment does the mobile lab consist of?
A: The mobile lab contains basic biotechnology equipment such as child-sized gloves and lab coats, tubes, racks, plastic ware, micropipetters (instruments to accurately measure and transfer very small volumes of liquid), and a bench-top centrifuge. More specialized pieces of equipment include those used for DNA analysis, including gel electrophoresis boxes for the separation of DNA based on size, and a UV-transilluminator for the visualization of resulting DNA fragments, or "bands."

Q: Is there a certain focus for the on-site inquiry-based lessons?
A: Inquiry-based lessons differ depending the level of student, the duration and extent of collaboration with the K-12 partner, and the learning outcomes to be addressed. The beauty of the mobile lab is that it can be used for a wide variety of lessons and contexts, from an isolated two-hour DNA fingerprinting activity to a semester-long collaborative biotechnology research project.

Q: What is the service-learning course you designed for JMU ISAT, biotechnology and honors students?
A: Now that I have the equipment needed for sustained outreach and engagement with K-12 partners, I hope to launch a service-learning course associated with the Honors Program Areas of Emphasis seminar courses. The Areas of Emphasis are three-course mini-curricula with one of five themes—creativity, leadership, service, research and global studies. The service-learning course I envision would be open to second-semester sophomores with an emphasis in service, leadership and/or research. In this course, students would connect with K-12 teachers to identify/establish STEM-related learning objectives, develop inquiry-based lessons to help meet these learning objectives, deliver/facilitate lessons using the mobile biotech lab and assess the success of the programming and reflect upon the experience. I imagine that this cycle would be completed in small groups at least twice during the semester. While the course would primarily be housed within the Honors Program, I would welcome ISAT and biotechnology (non-Honors) students to participate, as a means to enrich the student cohort and experience.

Q: How do you think service-learning courses benefit students?
A: What I've observed is that JMU students rise to the challenge of taking on the role of "expert" in these kinds of K-12 STEM education outreach/partnership events. This is a critical identity-shift required for the smooth transition from "student" to "practitioner." Through the process, students reflect upon the events and people that brought them to where they are today and come to appreciate how far they've come in their studies, how fortunate they are to have access to high-quality higher education and their responsibility to pay this privilege forward in the community.

Q: Why is JMU a good place to do your work?
A: At JMU I have the freedom to do the work that I feel passionate about. Community engagement and creating significant learning experiences for students are truly valued. As such, I am empowered to integrate such work into my more traditional biotechnology scholarship to support a more well-rounded and rewarding academic career.

Q: Is there anything else we should know about the project?
A: In addition to the mini-grant support, I received equipment donations from JMU alumni to help build the mobile lab.

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Published: Thursday, March 3, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2018

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