High school students get crash course on careers in genomics from NHGRI researchers

(Left to right): Vence Bonham, Jr. J.D., Diego Loayza, Ph.D., Doris Withers, Ed.D., Kevin Bishop, Carla Easter, Ph.D., and Keisha Findley, Ph.D., met the high school students who attended the Genomics Education Outreach Collaborative's event at Medgar Evers College on May 2, 2014. Photo by: Medgar Evers College of the City University of New York
Group photo

Keisha Findley's high school biology teacher made science fun and interesting, inspiring her to pursue a career in science. Instead of becoming a physician as she'd planned, Dr. Findley is a postdoctoral fellow in the National Human Genome Research Institute's (NHGRI) Social and Behavioral Research Branch.  She studies the skin microbiome and leg ulcers in patients with sickle cell disease.

Dr. Findley shared the steps she took towards her career in genomics with 60 Brooklyn-area high school students. She was one of four researchers who spoke at a May 2, 2014, event at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y. The Genomics Education Outreach Collaborative (GEOC), a partnership between NHGRI and Medgar Evers College, organized the event.

The six high schools that attended the day-long event, "Celebrating Genomics Careers for the Twenty-first Century," have been testing a curriculum that the GEOC created in the fall of 2013. It covers topics such as human identity, using genomics to map ancestry and the difference between genomics and genetics.

"I'm not sure if genomics is part of the curriculum in most schools across the United States" Dr. Findley said. "Students don't necessarily have to be experts in genomics, but they should know why it's important. We want to make it accessible--something they can understand."

Dr. Easter helped create the curriculum, and said this event reinforced it.

"I think it's exciting for students to have this kind of exposure," she said. "It allows them to connect what they're learning in the classroom to what they can do with that knowledge once they graduate."

The other researchers who spoke at the event  included:
  • Vence Bonham, Jr., J.D., chief, Education and Community Involvement Branch, NHGRI, who studies how race and ethnicity affect genomics research. He talked about the Physicians' Understanding of Human Genetic Variation Study, which he is leading. The study investigates the factors that influence which genetic tests healthcare providers recommend to their patients. He also discussed the research that Dr. Findley is doing with him, which will investigate the environmental factors that influence the formation of leg ulcers in patients with sickle cell disease.
     
  • Kevin Bishop, laboratory technician, Genetics and Molecular Biology Branch, NHGRI, who works on various research projects such as gene knockdown and gene sequencing in NHGRI's Zebrafish Core. He talked about zebrafish and why they are a good model for studying human disease.
     
  • Diego Loayza, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Hunter College, New York, N.Y., who studies DNA replication to better understand the function of telomeres. He gave students some insight on what to expect in college if they pursue a career in genomics.  
Dr. Findley said she will continue to talk to high school students and the public about her experiences in genomic research.

"They were really engaged and they asked a lot of good questions. I'm glad I could help them understand genomics and its impact on our lives," she said.

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Posted: June 2, 2014