STEM Pathways Hosts Second Annual Mini-Jamboree

February 17, 2018, STEM Pathways hosted their second annual Mini-Jamboree at the Rajen Kilachand Center for Integrated Life Sciences and Technology (CILSE)! The Mini-Jamboree was an interactive day of learning to encourage accessibility to synthetic biology to high school and undergrad students. The objectives of the event were to (1) promote STEM and synthetic biology by connecting students with professors and graduate students doing great and impactful research; (2) explore how synthetic biology can be used to improve or solve some of the issues and challenges plaguing communities all over the world; (3) highlight the access to research opportunities which can lead to participation in competitions like the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition; and (4) connect students to programs in the community and on BU and MIT's campuses to continue development in STEM.

Building upon the success of the 2017 mini-Jamboree, STEM Pathways partnered with the Boston University student chapter and again with the Office of Outreach and Diversity to host a larger audience of high school students, undergraduates, parents/guardians, K12 teachers, outreach programs, BU clubs, STEM organizations, and more.

The day began with a Programs Fair composed of BU student clubs (STEAM, BMES, and more) and industry partners such as the MIT Lincoln Labs and the MIT Museum. Attendees were welcomed to the Mini-Jamboree and introduced to STEM Pathways by Program Coordinator Tiffany E. Grant King. To gauge the audience’s knowledge of synthetic biology and the impact of the emerging field, participants competed in a live, interactive quiz using their cellphones. After getting the attendees’ blood pumping and brains firing, they proceeded to interactive break-out sessions.

Undergraduate students learned about genetic circuits and how to create functioning devices to sense and respond to environmental stimuli. Students brainstormed the possibilities of hacking a cell and the challenges associated with bringing synthetic biology applications to life. Lab tours connected students to research happening in the Biological Design Center and the Living Computing Project in order to learn more about research focus areas and uses of synthetic biology. Students gained lab exposure, learning about molecular cloning and drawing on agar plates with transformed E. coli bacteria containing a plasmid expressing a blue fluorescent protein gene. After learning about a common biological protocol, students engaged with a current undergraduate researcher about the field, her research, and other research opportunities on campus. They were then guided to partake in an invigorating bioethics forum about Martian colonization. The afternoon session included an opportunity for undergraduates to create a simple microfluidic design for bacteria transformation and for cell lysis.

High school students were exposed to experimental testing, the engineering design process, and statistical modeling through an activity hosted by the Office of Outreach and Diversity’s Technology Innovation Scholars Program. Understanding the thought process of an engineer to complete a task, students created three-dimensional models of synthetic biology experiments to explain how to get DNA into another organism. It was important for high school students to hear the voice of the undergraduate student. They heard a panel of BU student organizations share on their mission, impacts in STEM, and STEM in college beyond the classroom. Leveraging all the lessons in the morning, high schools students implemented their learnings by thinking of synthetic biology focused solutions to clean the Charles River, which has untreated waste discharge and toxins in it.

The last breakout session was for the broader community including parents and guardians, educators, and outreach programs. The session began with “Promotion of STEM” during which outreach programs and student organizations each presented a focused promotion on the significance of either science (uWISE, SASE), technology (First Robotics), engineering (NSBE, ENG GOV), or mathematics (The Calculus Project). After confirming the understanding of how high school students can benefit from a STEM education, the community learned about college readiness for high school students and the benefits of resource programs like Upward Bound, the Boston Area STEM Collaborative, Financial Aid, the Howard Thurman Center, the Office of Outreach and Diversity, and STEM Pathways. To challenge the community to think outside the box, they created a plan relying on synthetic biology to combat the breakout of a disease and stop it from spreading.

As a promoter and provider of research opportunities on BU’s campus, STEM Pathways hosted a panel discussion with a focus on “Shaping the Future: the Importance of Undergraduate Research.” The panel discussion was moderated by BU Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and STEM Pathways Lead Principal Investigator Dr. Douglas Densmore, and panel participants included researchers from all levels - high school, undergraduate, graduates, and industry partners. Attendees were able to see the impacts of research as they participated in an undergraduate research poster session.

Overall, the Mini-Jamboree had great reviews from attendees. One undergraduate said that “This jamboree was amazing! I especially loved the paper microfluidics project” while one high school student said that the interactive sessions were “very group work based and hearing the different ideas was eye-opening.” A community member said “I must congratulate everyone who worked to bring this to fruition...this was an AMAZING program. I will be following up with many who shared.”

What was perhaps the most meaningful to STEM Pathways was what one attendee said after the Mini-Jamboree: “I hope this organization can have more such kinds of activities to let students, who don't learn much about this [field] but still show their interest, learn more about it and I think it is really meaningful because STEM Pathways may change the future direction of students who are not sure about their future jobs.” The Program eagerly looks forward to the next Mini-Jamboree in 2019!