Friday, December 16, 2011

SITN at Hillhouse High School

As you all know from reading the previous post, one of YSD’s major projects is Science in the News (SITN), which aims to educate the general public (mainly adults) about hot science topics. We decided to reach out to high school kids as well. Last May we talked to a few high schools in the area about bringing our Spring 2011 SITN talks (see below for postcard) to the classroom in Fall 2011/Spring 2012. The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) director as well as other STEM teachers at James Hillhouse High School were very receptive to the idea and by September we had scheduled all the talks for the school year.  The talks would consist not only about academic topics, but also a Q&A about life as a scientist, how to get into grad school, and life as a Ph.D. student in an effort to motivate these kids to consider majoring in the sciences in college.

The first lecture, titled “Vaccines: How getting shot may save your life,” took place on Wednesday, October 27.  As the Education Outreach coordinator for YSD, I introduced the speakers and provided background about YSD’s overall outreach mission and the purpose of the SITN talks. Rakina, Heather, and Will, all graduate students and postdoctoral fellows from the Department of Immunobiology, gave a fantastic presentation about vaccines, including their history and biology (the discovery of the smallpox vaccine and how the immune system works), their presence in the news (HPV vaccine, the controversy over the false link between vaccines and autism), and their future (novel techniques of developing and delivering them).

Rakina provides an introduction to the history and biology of vaccines.

Heather discusses the vaccines in the news and the controversies surrounding them.

Will describes the mucosal immune system and the future of vaccines.
The audience consisted of 30 juniors and seniors in the STEM program. There are over 250 kids in the STEM program, so the teachers had asked the students to sign up beforehand in order to keep the seminar cozy and foster discussion. I was intrigued to see that there was only one boy who attended the lecture! Admittedly, I wasn’t too surprised, knowing that there were more females than males in the Biology program at my undergraduate institution as well as in my Ph.D. program. Is this the current trend?
Will goes to the chalkboard to clarify a point.
The kids asked many great questions about vaccines (“Why can’t you just take the serum from a healthy person and inject it into the patient”) as well as about graduate school (“What do you do as a scientist?” and “How’s the job outlook like after you graduate?” [yikes!]). We discussed that while many go into academia, there are several opportunities in industry, science writing, science policy, patent law, consulting, etc.  Based on the lecture, three students are working on a brief article that will be submitted to the school newspaper and the city-wide STEM newsletter.

The students asked great questions!
Overall, both the lecturers and students had a great time and learned a lot from this interaction. I’m so excited YSD is fostering science education at the local high schools! Over the summer, we worked with the Pathways program through the Office of New Haven and State Affairs and Hill Regional Career High School to bring the SITN lectures to high school students attending a 3 week science program at Yale.

Stay tuned for Elizabeth’s post about the recent second lecture at Hillhouse!

-Keerthi Shetty
3rd year Immunbiology Ph.D. Candidate
YSD Education Outreach Coordinator

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