May 26, 2011

Salk "Brings It" - to educate, excite and instill passion for science in community

Salk Institute Educational Outreach program honored by San Diego Unified School District

Salk News

Salk “Brings It” – to educate, excite and instill passion for science in community

Salk Institute Educational Outreach Honored by San Diego Unified School District

LA JOLLA, CA—The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is proud to announce that the Salk Educational Outreach program was honored May 25, 2011 by the San Diego Unified School District as a 20-year Partner in Education at a special End-of-Year Partner/Volunteer Awards Ceremony honoring 10, 20, and 25-year partners, Volunteers of the Year, and Partners of the Year.

Bringing Salk science into the K-12 community is an educational outreach highlight for the Institute. Salk hosts an annual High School Science Day and this February marked the 21st anniversary of the event with over 200 students attending and a record 47 scientists from 25 labs on hand to help with the activities. 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 with some of the Salk Institute’s world-renowned researchers.

Dona Mapston

Dona Mapston, Salk Institute Education Specialist and Don Whisman, San Diego Unified School District.

Image: Courtesy of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies

“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,” said Ellen Potter, director of the Educational Outreach Program.

Ellen Potter, along with Education Specialist Dona Mapston, leads the Salk Institute in delivering an expansive series of activities aimed at bringing the excitement of science and scientific discovery throughout San Diego to middle and high school students, educators and the overall community with the goal to increase student and teacher interest in the biological sciences and current research techniques.

“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,” said 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. ”

Salk’s educational outreach efforts to the community include the flagship program, High School Science Summer 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. By the end of the summer, many participants experience the exhilaration of discovering something previously unknown.

Another innovative program is the wildly popular Salk Mobile Science Lab, a free 3-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, this program provides a unique opportunity for students to learn about genetics and DNA from real Salk Institute scientists. Equipped with three days’ worth of science lessons, the lab visits a different middle school every two weeks to bring current experimental techniques directly into the classroom. Based on the theme of genetics and DNA technology, a team of volunteer graduates and postdoctoral scientists teaches DNA structure and techniques used for DNA fingerprinting and assists the students in performing various experiments such as extracting DNA from wheat germ.

“This type of inquiry-based, exploratory learning is fundamental to increasing student interest in the biological sciences,” explained Mapston. “The hands-on lab experience helps students really connect to what they are learning – and it’s fun,” she added.

In the past ten years, the Mobile Lab has reached more than 20,000 local students and this year visited a record 21 area schools and educational institutions. Potter and Mapston have also forged partnerships between the Mobile Science lab and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center, the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, the Elementary Institute for Science, and the Sally Ride Science Festival, and the San Diego Science Festival Expo to take the lab experience beyond the classrooms and into the community. In 2009 the San Diego Science Educators Association (SDSEA) recognized the highly successful program with an award of excellence for its support of K-12 science education in the local region.

Support continues for the educational outreach program with a new grant from the San Diego Foundation to conduct an in-depth evaluation of the Mobile Science Lab, to assess the impact of the lab on previous students attitudes about science classes and potential careers; a recent contribution from Bio-Rad Laboratories has agreed to fund an additional gel electrophoresis kit; and a new corporate partner, Gen-Probe, has signed on to bring more industry professionals into the educational outreach volunteer corps.

About the Salk Institute for Biological Studies:

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies is one of the world’s preeminent basic research institutions, where internationally renowned faculty probe fundamental life science questions in a unique, collaborative, and creative environment. Focused both on discovery and on mentoring future generations of researchers, Salk scientists make groundbreaking contributions to our understanding of cancer, aging, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and infectious diseases by studying neuroscience, genetics, cell and plant biology, and related disciplines.

Faculty achievements have been recognized with numerous honors, including Nobel Prizes and memberships in the National Academy of Sciences. Founded in 1960 by polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk, M.D., the Institute is an independent nonprofit organization and architectural landmark.

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