Burroughs Wellcome Fund Supports
PMABS' High School Outreach

April 1997. By Scott Lowry.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund has joined forces with the Partnership for Minority Advancement in the Biomolecular Sciences to better prepare students in North Carolina's rural and inner city high schools for science careers in the 21st century. These schools, which educate a disproportionately high number of the state's minority students, often lack the financial resources to keep at the cutting edge of science education.

The Fund's Student Science Enrichment Program, which provides $1 million annually to nonprofit organizations in North Carolina for creative science education activities for middle and high school students, recently awarded PMABS a $150,120 three-year grant for its Adventures in Biomolecular Sciences (ABS) program. The Burroughs Wellcome Fund, based in Durham, is an independent private foundation established to advance the medical sciences by supporting research and other scientific and educational activities.

PMABS, with primary funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, represents biology departments from seven historically minority universities (HMUs) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Partners work together to improve minority access to science careers through a sound knowledge base, practical laboratory experience, and computer skills. High school outreach is an important part of that process.

Biology professor Shelley Barker-Bridgers of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, one of the grant collaborators, knows the importance of getting students involved in science before they enter college. Before becoming a professor, she taught in the same Robeson County high school where she got her diploma. "I realized some of the needs within the high schools," Barker-Bridgers said. "And having the opportunity to be in a college and to reach over to them has really been a dream for me, to help people who are like what I was like when I was growing up."

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund helps support PMABS pilot programs in biology departments at North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke as regional training centers for high school biology teachers and their students. These Adventures in Biomolecular Sciences programs give high school students the opportunity to visit university biology laboratories and perform the same experiments done in molecular biology research laboratories.

"ABS uses an inquiry-based curriculum developed by CityLab at the Boston University School of Medicine that exposes students to the hot topics in modern biomolecular research," said Walter Bollenbacher, UNC-CH biology professor and Partnership director. "We will provide mentoring and biomolecular concepts to reach 3,000 high school students with meaningful, hands-on experience over the next three years." The program uses a two-step approach. First, area high school teachers spend two weeks during the summer in workshops at a nearby HMU, learning how to teach the CityLab curriculum to their students using the university's laboratory equipment. Then during the school year, after the teachers have guided their students through classroom pre-lab activities, the classes take a field trip to the university, where the teachers supervise as their students conduct a variety of molecular biology experiments.

"Building collaborations among universities and high schools through programs such as PMABS is an important step toward improving the way we teach science in North Carolina," said Bollenbacher. "We need a comprehensive process that produces knowledgeable, motivated students."

Because the CityLab curriculum presents science not as facts to memorize but as fun methods for solving real-world mysteries, teachers and students alike enjoy learning and applying the techniques. And professors enjoy not only leading the summer teacher workshops, but also partnering with teachers who return to the universities with their students. "I hope we will have more of the teachers return in the next academic year, especially now that we have additional support," said biology Professor Goldie Byrd of North Carolina Central University. "I am enthusiastic that we will make a difference."

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