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High school teachers applaud Dr. Starnbach’s lecture,
“T-cell responses to Microbial Pathogens.”

Focusing this year on immunology and infectious disease, the third annual MCB/HHMI High School Fall Outreach Program was launched on October 6. The program, which consists of a series of lectures by Harvard faculty and lecturers, followed by group activities with MCB faculty and graduate students, is cosponsored by the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Dr. Michael Carroll, Harvard Medical School Professor of Pediatrics and Pathology, gave the first lecture of the series, entitled, “The Role of Innate and Adaptive Immunity in the Response to Pathogens.” Following his talk, 75 participating high school biology teachers toured the lab of Professor Jack Strominger, the Center for Genomics Research (CGR), or attended a workshop on bioinformatics.  Subsequent talks were given by Harvard Medical School professors Dr. Michael Starnbach, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, and Dr. Judy Lieberman, Senior Investigator and Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, entitled “T-cell Responses to Microbial Pathogens,” and “Harnessing RNA Interference for Therapy,” respectively. The next lecture, “Innate Immunity in Tropical Disease on November 17, was given by Dr. Donald Harn, a professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Due to extensive progress in immunology over the last decade, and because its concepts are tightly interwoven with public health, participating high school teachers chose it as the focus of this year’s Fall Outreach Program. But immunology can be difficult to integrate into high school classrooms due to its complexity, the expensive equipment required, and because it is largely ignored by state and national curriculum standards. During the activity sessions, eight teachers from the summer outreach program presented resources they developed in the summer to the fall participants. These resources, which include lesson plans, web quests, and animations on immunology, give fall participants the ability to incorporate immunology into their curriculums.

Shahira Badran, a participating teacher from Somerville High School in Somerville, MA, commented, “I absolutely love the program…I enjoy it immensely and look forward to it very much. It is mentally and intellectually stimulating, and it provides me with very useful materials.” Badran continued, “Due to my very hectic life as a teacher, this has become the only opportunity for me to stay in touch with current research and to update my knowledge. I am also originally a molecular biologist, and this program allows me to pursue my interests in that field, and familiarize myself with the advanced technologies and lab procedures in research, despite the never-ending teaching responsibilities.”

Dr. Judy Lieberman
After the lecture and group activities, program participants reunited to have dinner on the first floor of Bio Labs. They were joined by faculty, postdocs and graduate students, and despite a long day, the energy level at dinner remained high.  Dr. Lieberman was appreciative of participants’ zeal, commenting, “I enjoy talking to science teachers because they are so enthusiastic about learning about new developments in science and medicine.  I hope they can impart some of their enthusiasm to their students,” she continued. “So few American students these days go into careers in scientific research.  High school is a critical time for young people to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and I think we need to do everything we can to attract more students to science. This is just a small way for me to help in that effort.”

The final session of the fall program takes place on December 1, when Dr. Robert Lue, Senior Lecturer on Molecular and Cellular Biology, Dean of the Harvard Summer School, and Director of HHMI Undergraduate and Outreach Programs, presents, “Co-option and Destruction of the Immune System by HIV.”

If you are interested in learning more about MCB/HHMI Outreach programs, please visit the MCB Outreach website, http://outreach.mcb.harvard.edu, or email Tara Bennett, Program Manager, at tbennett@fas.harvard.edu or Susan Johnson, Curriculum Consultant, at sljohns@fas.harvard.edu.