In 2010, Stephen Harris, a PhD candidate in Evolutionary Biology at The City University of New York, and Marissa Bellino, a science teacher at the High School for Environmental Studies (HSES) in New York City and PhD candidate in urban education at The City University of New York began working together to develop curriculum that trains students to perform biological research. Our initial idea was to develop authentic research projects with students by introducing advanced molecular biology techniques hoping to provide a skill set to high school students that would allow them to more easily succeed in a science based major at the postsecondary level. We received funding from GK-12, a Toyota Tapestry grant, and Toshiba America Foundation to build a stand alone molecular biology lab at HSES. Nearly every field in the life sciences currently employs molecular biology techniques to answer genetics based questions. We are in the age of DNA and genomics, but unfortunately, the necessary lab skills and molecular theory are not taught to science students at the high school or even college level. We believe that students will be more interested in STEM fields and scientific careers by giving students the appropriate skill set as early as possible.
In 2011, a colleague saw the molecular work we were doing with students in NYC and asked if we wanted to try to set up something similar in his native country of Belize. He knew of Arlie Petters, a native Belizean and professor at Duke University, who has a non-profit in Dangriga, The Petters Research Institute. We went down to Dangrigra for our first trip in the summer of 2012. We called the program BioBelize, and worked with over 20 local high school students. We did not have the equipment for a molecular lab, so we performed fieldwork and introduced students to ecological concepts including ecosystem services, biodiversity, and, sampling. We took students out and collected insects, taught them how to mount and identify them, and introduced the concept of DNA barcoding. It was a huge success based on student feedback. After speaking with agricultural professionals and professors from Galen University, we realized Belize does not have a DNA laboratory. Similar to our goals in NYC, we hope to train Belizean students in molecular biology techniques to help them enter into STEM related fields. We would like to train the next generation of Belizean scientists and establish our own research program in Belize.
Marissa Bellino, Director of Education and Outreach
Marissa Bellino is a teacher at the High School for Environmental Studies. She became a teacher through the New York City Teaching Fellows, a program dedicated to placing individuals from diverse educational and professional backgrounds into New York City public schools. While working at HSES, Marissa has helped create a variety of environmental and research curricula. In 2009, she joined the CUNY GK-12 program and worked with Christopher Nagy to develop ecological research methods for her science research class. Working together, students in this class completed research projects on earthworms, squirrels, turtles and soils. Stephen Harris joined the HSES research team as a fellow in 2010 and helped expand the science research program to include a molecular ecology component. Through a Toyota Tapestry grant, Stephen and Marissa have built a molecular research laboratory for students to design research projects investigating New York City biodiversity using DNA barcodes. Marissa was the recipient of the 2011 Sloan Award for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics and is currently enrolled in the Urban Education PhD program at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Stephen Harris is a Ph.D candidate in Biology at the CUNY Graduate Center specializing in Ecology, Evolution and Behavior. After getting a B.S. from The Ohio State University in 2006 in molecular genetics, he moved to New York City as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows Program. From 2007 to 2009 he obtained a M.A. in Secondary Science Education from the City University of New York and taught 6th grade science, 7th grade science, and Regents Earth Science in two public schools around NYC. After two years teaching, he joined the lab of Dr. Jason Munshi-South at Baruch College to study population genomics; specifically, how urbanization in NYC may be leading to local adaptation in white-footed mice in city parks. He is also currently working to develop Molecular NYC, a course that takes students into local parks to teach basic ecological research skills and then introduces them to the molecular techniques used by scientists to answer evolutionary important questions about ecological systems. Stephen is looking forward to developing some of the same science curriculum at the Petters Research Institute this summer.