Throughout my career, I will maintain my strong commitment to outreach activities related to biotechnology:
In 2012, I was involved in an outreach program at the Des Moines Central Campus, which offers extended educational courses to middle and high school students from 57 schools in 29 school districts around central Iowa. The program aims to expose the students to current research in the biotechnology field early in their education, to promote their interest in this growing field. I presented my research in a framework that illustrated the scientific process of developing biological questions into hypotheses and methodology to prove these hypotheses. Additionally, I developed an activity where students use phylogenetic comparative methods to test evolutionary hypotheses.
Another outreach opportunity that I have previously assisted with is the “Taking the Road Less Traveled Career Conference for Girls”, sponsored by the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) program at Iowa State. This program aims to expose high school girls to career paths in science, technology, engineering, and math. The approach is novel, because high school curricula typically keep mathematics and science classes separate, so the students are not often aware of the crossover that exists between these fields. The program introduces students to a cutting-edge new area in biotechnology and provides suggestions for classes that the girls could take in high school to prepare themselves for interdisciplinary research.
Spring 2014, I participated in the nation-wide Portal to the Public program at the Science Center of Iowa, which is designed to increase interactions between scientists and the public to promote appreciation and understanding of current scientific research and applications. Through this program, I developed a hands-on educational activity about my research on facial recognition in paper wasps , which communicates the key messages of my work for a general public audience. This activity will be presented at the Science Center of Iowa in order to inspire lifelong interest in science, technology, engineering and math.
Through these outreach activities, I have gained insight into the background biological knowledge of high school students. Since the majority of my students are freshmen, these experiences have provided me with a greater prospective on their incoming knowledge, which has improved my interactions with my students.