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SEPA Project Descriptions, November 2011

The Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program is designed to incorporate inquiry-based learning experiences to stimulate interest in science, further public understanding of health issues and encourage the next generation of health professionals. With an emphasis on supporting a diverse workfoce pipeline and reducing health disparities, the program's K – 12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) projects target minorities and students in rural and underserved communities. The SEPA program's Informal Science Education (ISE) projects in science museums and planetariums educate the public on the relationship between lifestyle and health and emerging or topical health issues. SEPA K – 12 STEM and ISE awards support enhanced training for science teachers; the development and distribution of hands-on science curricula; and websites for students, teachers and the general public.


Baylor College of Medicine

Houston, Texas

Gene U: Inquiry-Based Genomics Learning Experiences for Teachers and Students
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.25 million

Principal Investigator
Nancy P. Moreno, Ph.D.

Description:

Gene U develops, evaluates and disseminates new science and health teaching resources for middle and early high school audiences, focused on emerging areas in genetics and genomics. Examples of topics include: importance of family history in understanding risk and disease susceptibility, significance and genetic variability of the microorganisms on and within the human body, and how genetics research is advancing neurobiology understanding. Ethical considerations and biomedical processes for basic, clinical and translational research are woven throughout the teaching resources. The project teams Baylor College of Medicine and Emory University with local education agencies, and includes collaborators with a wide range of educational and scientific expertise. The project advances public understanding of how genetics and genomics, basic, clinical and translational research contributes to health. Gene U engages middle and high school audiences in educational activities that have potential to improve science and health learning by underrepresented and economically disadvantaged students and to promote their interest and preparedness for biomedical careers.


East Carolina University

Greenville, N.C.

FoodMASTER: Impacting Middle Grade Science and Mathematics Learning Environments
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.16 million

Principal Investigator
Melani Duffrin, Ph.D.

Description:

The project focuses on developing science and mathematics resource materials for middle grade teachers, providing a summer science experience for middle grade students, and training middle grade teachers and faculty in using the FoodMASTER (Food, Math, and Science Teaching Enhancement Resource) approach. The FoodMASTER initiative is a compilation of programs aimed at using food as a tool to teach basic research, science and math concepts to K – 12 students. This project will have an impact on science learning environments for middle graders by creating curricula and implementing programming that will provide base-line data about how the FoodMASTER approach can prepare students to understand the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of knowledge to extend healthy life.


Great Lakes Science Center

Cleveland, Ohio

BioMedTech: Students Translating and Exploring Medicine
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.19 million

Principal Investigator
Valence Davillier III

Description:

BioMedTech: Students Translating and Exploring Medicine (STEM) will introduce students and the general public to the broad spectrum of research that is needed on the linkages between obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The project will address the obesity epidemic and the rapid increase in diabetes, a deadly combination that multiplies the risk of cardiovascular disease. With high school student research and science communication internships at the center of the project, students will assist the Great Lakes Science Center in designing exhibits and education programs that introduce the public to the broad spectrum of research that is needed on the linkages between obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including laboratory, clinical, community and population research.


Hudson-Alpha Institute for Biotechnology

Huntsville, Ala.

It’s Complex! Engaging Student Discussions around Complex Genetics and Individual
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.1 million

Principal Investigator
Neil E. Lamb, Ph.D.

Description:

It’s Complex! assists Alabama high school students in identifying genetic and environmental risks for disease and exploring how risk awareness shapes disease prevention. Scientists have begun to detect genetic and environmental factors that influence complex diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and many forms of cancer. Knowledge of risk factors aids physicians and their patients in selecting the best course of action for management or prevention. The Hudson-Alpha Institute for Biotechnology will create and implement Risky Business, an online activity that explores the world of genetic testing, risk determination and prevention/treatment options. Students will assume the role of a family physician, working with patients whom have recently undergone genomic testing for several complex disorders. Students will review family history, medical records, video interviews and genetic information to ascertain genetic and environmental risks. Collectively, these risks will be used to identify medical and lifestyle recommendations that reduce the chance of developing the disease. The engaging interactive format offers self-directed learning and a content management system allows new research findings or clinical applications to be added through regular updates. Online videos, animations, interviews and career profiles will support both students and educators and link content to workforce opportunities in the bioscience arena. Initial implementation will focus on Alabama schools that reach students who are traditionally underrepresented in the biomedical field.


Iowa State University

Ames, Iowa

Meta!Blast: A 3D Cell and Metabolic Biology Interactive Learning Environment
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.25 million

Principal Investigator
Eve Wurtele, Ph.D.

Description:

Meta!Blast, an interactive application on cell biology and Students Translating and Exploring Medicine (STEM). Students are immersed in a three-dimensional, biologically accurate plant cell. Individual biological concepts are parsed into student tasks, while keeping these tasks in the context of the whole environment. Meta!Blast combines sophisticated simulation technology with accurate biological information to allow students to explore and interact with a cell and during this process to discover cellular energetics, gene function and cellular defenses. The ability to change environmental scales can make the student aware of not only the individual parts and processes in the cell but how they work together to allow the whole to function. This project will evaluate and enhance an interactive software module, Meta!Blast,containing biologically accurate 3-D cell parts and molecules, integrated with a plot and characters. The application dynamically illustrates modern concepts in cell and metabolic biology and stimulates students to join the biological and medical teaching and research professions.


Miami University

Middletown, Ohio

Fighting with Food: Battling Chemical Toxicity with Good Nutrition
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.1 million

Principal Investigators
Susan S. Hershberger, Ph.D.

Kim Nelson Dietrich, Ph.D.

Mary Beth Genter, Ph.D.

Description:

The goal of Fighting with Food: Battling Chemical Toxicity with Good Nutrition is to create, test and assess middle and high school classroom instructional materials designed to bring the results of current biomedical research on nutrition and toxic exposure into the classroom, incorporate best Students Translating and Exploring Medicine (STEM) education practices, and lead to improved academic achievement and food choices. Fighting with Food results from an innovative collaboration of scientists conducting research on nutrition and toxic exposure, science educators, nutritionists, and middle and high school educators. The bioaccumulation of many pollutants, such as heavy metals and persistent organics, plays a significant role in cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and hypertension. Current biomedical research is revealing good nutrition to be an essential factor in intervention and prevention of disease related to exposure to toxic chemicals. This project will bring these research results into hundreds of middle and high school classrooms in a format that empowers teachers and students to make informed personal choices about nutrition and exposure to toxic chemicals to support their health.


Mississippi State University

Mississippi State, Miss.

Partnerships to Promote Healthy Lifestyles for Children and Communities
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.21 million

Principal Investigators
Ginger Cross, Ph.D.

Chiquita Briley, Ph.D.

Description:

Obesity is a serious public health concern as rates for childhood and adult obesity have reached epidemic proportions. This project creates partnerships between university researchers, a medical professional and staff at an interactive health education center and uses informal science education and media activities to promote healthy lifestyles for children, parents, teachers and community members. Building upon the expertise of project partners, the research will use a variety of creative techniques to educate PreK and K students, their parents, teachers and community members about topics related to obesity. These techniques range from age-appropriate dynamic and innovative, hands-on exhibits and field trip programs offered at a children’s health education center to community awareness/media activities such as public service announcement scripts, social media tools and print media. The information generated from the project will provide real solutions to the public for improving health.


Montana State University

Bozeman, Mont.

Science Montana: Engaging 4-H Teens with Bioscience Research
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.18 million

Principal Investigators
Kimberly Obbink, Ed.D.

Gwen Ann Jacobs, Ph.D.

Jill Teresa Marz, Ph.D.

Description:

Many Montana high school students, particularly those in rural and often isolated areas, have limited, if any, exposure to scientists and thus often lack the awareness and the role models needed to consider bioscience study and careers. Science Montana: Engaging 4-H Teens with Bioscience Research aims to: 1) engage rural Montana teens in basic, applied, and translational research in biosciences through a year-long inquiry-based learning environment; 2) increase the interest of rural Montana teens in pursuing basic and clinical bioscience research and other careers related to health sciences, particularly among populations underrepresented in bioscience professions; and 3) create a Web-based repository of project content and interactive multimedia assets that will enable 4-H leaders and informal education professionals to incorporate bioscience content, activities and resources at the local level. Participants have the opportunity to work with IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) faculty located at tribal colleges across the state and will make public presentations at local community events, state 4-H Congress, and other regional and national meetings. The project engages rural and underserved Montana teens with Montana State University research in neuroscience, infectious disease and metabolomics, all of which have direct relevance to public health. Project participants experience the scientific process from basic to applied to translational research, learning that laboratory discoveries can ultimately improve health and save lives. By inspiring participants with stimulating bioscience content and activities, the projects aims to encourage more young Montanans to consider careers in science disciplines that support the NIH mission of improving public health.


Museum of Science and Industry

Chicago, Ill.

SIMLAB: Using Patient Simulation for Student Exploration of Community Health Issues
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.22 million

Principal Investigators
Patricia Ward, Ph.D.

Rabiah Mayas, Ph.D.

Description:

SIMLAB: Using Patient Simulation for Student Exploration of Community Health Issues, is an innovative collaboration between the museum and Chicago Public Schools. The project focus is iStan®, a Human Patient Simulator. Currently, the simulator is in use in the Museum as part of the You! The Experience exhibit. iStan® is a computer-driven, full-sized mannequin that delivers true-to-life biomedical scenarios that swiftly change to meet the user’s goals. The sophisticated and highly versatile iStan® blinks, speaks and breathes, has a heartbeat and a pulse, and accurately mirrors human responses to such procedures as cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, intravenous medication, intubation, ventilation and catheterization. Although this technology is widespread in medical education, this is the first time it is being used in a museum setting to target primary and secondary education. Science teachers and health educators participating in the project will first get an overview of basic iStan® capabilities. Subsequently, the teachers and health educators will work with students to choose a health issue important to their community such as violence, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, infectious disease and asthma. Museum educators will then work with teachers and health educators to develop and implement iStan® storylines that will engage students and make health science more relevant to their everyday lives. The result of this process will be a menu of museum-based learning lab programs that will be made available to the broader student and teacher audience as a means of supporting the science and health curricula in the schools.


Nebraska Medical Center

Omaha, Neb.

Building Bridges: Health Science Education in Native American Communities
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.25 million

Principal Investigator
Maurice Godfrey, Ph.D.

Description:

The University of Nebraska Medical Center, with the support of the Aberdeen Area Tribal Chairmen’s Health Board, will leverage the trust and cooperative spirit garnered over the past five years working with tribal schools and communities in Nebraska and South Dakota to develop, implement and evaluate science curriculum targeting Native American students grades K – 12. The long term goals of this project are to promote student interest in the sciences, foster a more science literate public and ultimately to increase the number of Native Americans entering health and science careers. Improving science instruction in the classrooms serving our Native American partners is the aim of this project. This will be accomplished by creating and adapting hands-on, age appropriate activities. Teacher support through summer workshops, mentoring, and in-service education will facilitate implementation of novel science strategies and development of a research course for use in tribal schools. Student engagement will be enhanced through summer experiences from science camps for middle school to extended laboratory research projects for select high schools students. Reaching beyond the classroom to parents and communities is also critical to the success of this project. Community education programs will be designed to promote healthy living, increase health literacy and improve access to health information resources. Professional evaluations will be made at all stages, with major emphasis being placed on evaluating the educational and community impact of the project.


Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

Portland, Ore.

The Zoo in You: Exploring the Human Microbiome
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.24 million

Principal Investigator
Victoria Coats

Description:

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, in partnership with the J. Craig Venter Institute, will develop The Zoo in You: Exploring the Human Microbiome, a 2,000-square-foot bilingual (English and Spanish) traveling exhibition for national tour to science centers, health museums and other relevant venues. The exhibition will engage visitors in the cutting edge research of the National Institutes of Health's Human Microbiome Project (HMP) and explore the impact of the microbiome on human health. To enrich the visitor experience, The Zoo in You project also will produce an interactive bilingual website and in-depth programs including science cafes and book groups for adult audiences. Visitors will make connections between basic research, human health and their own personal experiences. The bilingual exhibits and programs will present research finding and public health information in enjoyable and engaging ways to reach diverse family and adult audiences.


Pacific Science Center

Seattle, Wash.

Out of the Lab and Into the Spotlight: Bringing Current Health Research to the Public
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.25 million

Principal Investigator
Meena Selvakumar, Ph.D.

Description:

The Pacific Science Center’s Out of the Lab and Into the Spotlight project brings current and fascinating information about health science research to Pacific Northwest audiences. Through a series of showcases that change content every six months, the Research Focus Gallery highlights cutting-edge local research. The Gallery, a combined exhibit and program space, features multimedia displays, research artifacts, hands-on exhibits and a presentation area where local researchers communicate their work to visitors. An annual, three-day research festival and monthly Science Cafes in three locations will complement the programs presented in the Gallery and will provide multiple venues for a variety of audiences to meet face-to-face with local researchers and learn about health science and related careers. The primary audience for OLIS consists of families and school groups, ages eight and older, drawn from over 800,000 annual visitors. As a standalone element within the new wellness exhibit, due to open in 2011, we anticipate the Gallery will reach three to four million visitors during the grant period and up to five million additional visitors in the subsequent five years.


University of North Carolina Greensboro

Greensboro, N.C.

The Science of Healthful Living
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.25 million

Principal Investigator
Catherine D. Ennis, Ph.D.

Description:

The objective of this project is to design and field-test a science-enriched middle school healthful living curriculum to increase students’ knowledge and interest in health-related science, enhance their intention to pursue a life science-related career, and improve the communities’ understandings of NIH-funded clinical and basic research. In 2010, the Trust for America ranked North Carolina as the state with the 10th highest rate of obesity in the nation. Currently, more than one third of North Carolina adolescents and two thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Six local education associations in the Piedmont region of North Carolina will partner with scientists and educators on this Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) team to design and evaluate The Science of Healthful Living curriculum. The curriculum will be based on the National Science Content Standards and the North Carolina Standard Course of Study for 6th – 8th grade students. This SEPA middle school curriculum will use student-centered modules to help teens examine the effects of their physical activity and nutrition choices on body systems. This project will address public health concerns about adolescents’ sedentary life styles and obesity through the development, assessment and dissemination of a science-based Healthful Living Curriculum. This middle school curriculum will increase young adolescents’ knowledge of health-related science through a student-centered, physically active curriculum. Students will share science and personal health knowledge with family members, increasing their trust in and use of NIH research findings to make positive, healthy life decisions.


University of Southern California

Alhambra, Calif.

Virtual Sprouts: Web-based Gardening Games to Teach Nutrition and Combat Obesity
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.25 million

Principal Investigators
Donna Spruijt-Metz, Ph.D.

Chad Lane, Ph.D.

Gisele Ragusa, Ph.D.

Description:

Virtual Sprouts: Web-based Gardening Games is an interactive and simulated version of the First Lady’s Organic Garden in a game-based environment that targets subjects from low income, minority populations in Los Angeles, including children ages 8 to 11, their parents, teachers and the community. Virtual Sprouts serves as a highly engaging and innovative research education program to improve Pre-K – 12 research career opportunities and the community’s understanding of the health science advances in obesity and nutrition that are supported by NIH-funded clinical and basic research. The program has the potential to revolutionize Students Translating and Exploring Medicine (STEM) education on obesity, promote healthy food choices and decrease obesity rates — especially in minority youth at high risk of obesity and related disorders. Broad dissemination of Virtual Sprouts will be achieved through partners, including University of Southern California’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, University of Southern California Family of Schools, and the California Science Center.


University of Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah

Inside Your Body: Web-based Curricula for Secondary Science
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.25 million

Principal Investigator
Louisa A. Stark, Ph.D.

Description:

The Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah is using its expertise in developing effective multimedia learning experiences to produce two life science curriculum supplement modules. The Inside Your Body project is designed to educate secondary students, teachers and other adults about the processes that take place inside their bodies. Particularly, it focuses on what happens to the food they eat, how their bodies responds to sensory inputs and factors affecting attention, learning and memory. These materials will engage secondary-level students, teachers and the public in exploring the question, "What goes on inside my body?" The modules address: 1) the molecular physiology of how the body obtains, transforms, transports and uses the matter and energy required to sustain it, and 2) the neurobiology of what the body does with sensory input and the relationship of this input to attention, learning and memory. The modules highlight the connections between these topics and related science concepts typically addressed in separate textbook units. They assist students in building a deeper understanding of key ideas needed for science literacy in the 21st Century while engaging digital-age learners. The ultimate goal is to educate people so that that they can make better choices for improved health.


University of Washington

Seattle, Wash.

Genes, the Environment and ME (GEM)
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.24 million

Principal Investigators
Maureen Munn, Ph.D.

Joshua Akey, Ph.D.

Stephanie Fullerton, Ph.D.

Deborah Nickerson, Ph.D.

Description:

Genes, the Environment and Me (GEM) is addressing the pressing need for deeper understanding of biomedical research among diverse populations and increased representation of underrepresented minorities in biomedical fields through a school and community-focused science education program. The project is being conducted in collaboration with three programs within the University of Washington (UW) Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, the UW Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, and scientists and ethicists at the UW and other biomedical research institutions throughout Washington. GEM uses a community-based participatory research approach to involve community members, teachers, students, parents and community leaders as equal partners in planning, developing and implementing project activities. Through these partnerships, they will develop a series of modular lessons focused on a fundamental concept of biology: the interaction of genes and the environment in the determination of traits in all living organisms. The lessons are being used to supplement health and science programs that serve underrepresented K – 12 students throughout Washington and other parts of the United States. In addition, Family Science Festivals involve students, teachers, families and the community in learning about genetic concepts and health-related conditions in an informal all-age celebration.


Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tenn.

Transforming STEM Learning in Urban Schools Using the SSMV Model
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.25 million

Principal Investigator
Virginia L. Shepherd, Ph.D.

Description:

The goal of the project is to adapt the interdisciplinary research-based curriculum created at the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV) for implementation of a four-year program in three Metropolitan Nashville Public School high schools. The project: 1) adapts the on-campus model for implementation in three public high schools with different academic profiles (SSM Academies); 2) defines the variables and features required to sustain the program; 3) replicates the model in any high school setting; and 4) defines a strategy for disseminating the model to additional schools. Students entering 9th grade in a school in which an SSM Academy has been implemented are encouraged to apply. Those who are accepted into the program spend three hours every other day in two courses based on the adapted curriculum. As with the SSMV, rising seniors have opportunities to enter Vanderbilt laboratories for summer research internships. Teachers from the high school work with Center for Science Outreach scientists to adapt the SSMV curriculum for implementation. Ongoing, year-long teacher professional development is conducted to ensure that the curriculum is dynamic and the teachers are well-prepared to engage and guide the students in the curriculum. Students who graduate from this program will be prepared for entry into colleges and Students Translating and Exploring Medicine (STEM) research and health-related careers.


Yale Peabody Museum

New Haven, Conn.

Climate Change and Patterns of Vector-borne Disease: Development of Translational
Estimated Five-Year Award: $1.25 million

Principal Investigator
Leonard E. Munstermann, Ph.D.

Description:

In an era of globalization, international transport and travel bring previously unknown, exotic diseases into the United States. Because malaria, leishmaniasis and dengue are endemic diseases in most tropical countries, they routinely enter the U.S. This SEPA project increases public awareness of these diseases through museum exposition and development of K – 12 curricula, based on the most recent research on these diseases. Communication between research scientists and the general public appears ever more difficult, in part due to the arcane language used by scientific specialists and in part due to a system of science education that lags far behind the current research advances. This project aims to improve that communication formally by developing high school curriculum units and informally through museum exhibits and public forums. Researchers, museum educators and high school teachers will cooperate in this endeavor, centered at the Yale Peabody Museum and drawing on the research resources of the Yale Medical School (clinical and public health).

This page last reviewed on February 21, 2017