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Education Outreach program honored for 20-year partnership with San Diego schools

High School Science Day

The San Diego Unified School District honored the Salk Education Outreach program May 25 as a 20-year Partner in Education at a special end-of-year partner/volunteer awards ceremony.

"Our scientists are passionate about their field of study and enjoy sharing it with young people, and this enthusiasm is often a key factor in changing students' perceptions about science," explains Ellen Potter, director of the Education Outreach program, which provides an array of educational activities aimed at bringing the excitement of scientific discovery to middle and high school students, educators and community members throughout San Diego.

The program's efforts include its flagship program, Salk High School Scholars, an eight-week curriculum that offers high school students the opportunity to be involved with a full-time research project under the mentorship of a Salk scientist. The popular Salk Mobile Science Lab is a free three-day biotechnology program serving middle schools throughout San Diego County. Launched in 1996 by Potter in conjunction with the San Diego County Office of Education, the Mobile Science Lab provides a unique hands-on opportunity for students to learn about genetics and DNA from real Salk Institute scientists. In the past ten years, the lab has reached more than 20,000 local students and this year visited a record 21 area schools and educational institutions.

"This type of inquiry-based, exploratory learning is fundamental to increasing student interest in the biological sciences," explains Salk education specialist Dona Mapston. "The hands-on lab experience helps students really connect to what they are learning—and it's fun."

Salk also hosts an annual High School Science Day at the Institute, and this February marked the 21st anniversary of the event. The half-day event includes one-of-a-kind presentations from scientists who share stories of their professional experience, laboratory tours and hands-on participation in ongoing research experiments. More than 200 students attended, and 47 scientists from 25 labs were on hand to help with the activities.

"The Salk's Education Outreach Program is a leader in connecting young students with the importance and impact of science on our health and our world," notes Salk president William R. Brody. "Ellen and Dona help students explore their interest and intrigue early in their academic careers, which will hopefully lead to our next generation of scientists. This recognition from the SDUSD is a well-deserved honor for the amazing work they do on behalf of Salk."