BLACKSBURG, Va., August 30, 2012 – Recently, Dr. Josep Bassanganya-Riera partnered with the American Association of Immunologists in their Summer Research Program grant for teachers.

The program, which promotes excellence in scientific education in secondary schools, provides teachers with access to mentors, educational consultants, and hands-on experiences that they will take back to the classroom. Upon field-testing their curriculum, teachers are expected to present their findings at a professional scientific meeting.  Past teaching materials are available in an online archive at the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) Summer Research Program for Teachers site.

Bassaganya-Riera provided mentorship for Stephen Biscotte of Roanoke, Va., a Cave Spring High School science teacher, who was one of eight grant recipients in the nation.

“I am very pleased that the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory has partnered with the AAI Summer Research Program. Forward looking education and outreach initiatives such as this one help build stronger bridges between the immunology research community and science teachers. As a part of this program, Stephen has been involved in the development of computational models of important immunological processes and has contributed to important host response studies. He plans to use the skills and knowledge gained to improve the science curriculum at Cave Spring and to introduce practical modeling exercises into the classroom,” said Bassaganya-Riera, professor of immunology and director of the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory (NIMML) at Virginia Tech.

After an introductory course in immunology, Biscotte was hosted for a month at NIMML, where he participated in laboratory studies and computer simulations that helped him gain a better appreciation for immunological research. Because of his hands-on experience and an immunological short course taken at the University of Pennsylvania, Biscotte was confident he could develop a stronger module on immunology than ever before. 

“The fellowship was an incredible experience,” noted Biscotte. “As a teacher, I don’t often get the chance to conduct research in a cutting edge immunology laboratory myself.  I learned that ‘real science’ has changed since I went through school. Specifically, the fully integrated experimental and computational environment at NIMML has allowed me to experience first hand how mechanistic discoveries are turned into improving human health.” 

“Science education is at an all-time low in the general populace,” said Dr. Clinton Mathias, assistant professor at Western New England University and director of the AAI High School Teachers Program. “One example is that a significant majority of the American population still harbors doubts about vaccination regimens and refrains from vaccinating their kids, giving rise to epidemics such as the recent whooping cough episodes in California and Washington. AAI sees the High School Teachers Summer Research Program as an opportunity not only to educate high school teachers about immunology, but to help bring the excitement of scientific discovery as well as an awareness of immunology into the classroom. Through this program, we are helping to cultivate the next generation of investigators and helping teachers raise scientific literacy and, thereby, combat junk science.”

Past program participants have indicated that the program helped them increase excitement about immunology in the classroom.  The teachers note that their students became aware of the link between medicine and research and that students were given perspective on their real-world immunology experiences with allergies, diabetes, etc. 

“We hope that this program will establish long-term associations between science teachers and the immunology research community,” adds Dr. Mary Litzinger, AAI manager of Educational and Career Development Programs. “This will allow the gains in science education started by this program to further grow and flourish.”   

Dr. Megean Garvin, Education Consultant for the AAI High School Teachers Program, remarks, “Across the United States, educators are encouraged to rise to the challenge of integrating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education initiatives into their classrooms.  The AAI High School Teachers Program provides an invaluable laboratory experience for high school teachers to develop STEM curriculum.  Previous teacher participants reported changing their classroom practices to include not only more in-depth immunology content but also laboratory practices and protocols.  As teachers increase the use of modern immunology laboratory techniques in high school classrooms, they inspire students, who may not have previously considered a science career, to pursue STEM career paths.”  

For your reference:
The AAI High School Teachers Summer Research Program in Immunology provides support for a hands-on experience that allows teachers to conduct research in the laboratories of AAI members for a 4-6 week period during the summer followed by curriculum development. The goal of the program is to give science teachers the opportunity to participate in an actual research experience in immunology, and to allow them to develop laboratory exercises to bring the excitement of research to their classrooms. Further, the curricula that the teachers develop are available to other teachers nationwide through the archive maintained on the AAI web site. 

About the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory
The Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory conducts translational research aimed at developing novel therapeutic and preventive approaches for modulating immune and inflammatory responses. The Laboratory combines computational modeling, bioinformatics approaches, immunology experimentation, and pre-clinical and clinical studies to better understand the mechanisms of immune regulation at mucosal surfaces and ultimately accelerate the development of novel treatments for inflammatory, infectious and immune-mediated diseases.

About the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute
The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech is a premier bioinformatics, computational biology, and systems biology research facility that uses transdisciplinary approaches to science, combining information technology, biology and medicine. These approaches are used to interpret and apply vast amounts of biological data generated from basic research to some of today’s key challenges in the biomedical, environmental, and agricultural sciences. With more than 240 highly trained multidisciplinary, international personnel, research at the institute involves collaboration in diverse disciplines such as mathematics, computer science, biology, plant pathology, biochemistry, systems biology, statistics, economics, synthetic biology and medicine. The large amounts of data generated by this approach are analyzed and interpreted to create new knowledge that is disseminated to the world’s scientific, governmental and wider communities.


Tiffany Trent

August 30, 2012