CRL Expands Summer K-12 Outreach

The Cobb Research Lab values development and enrichment of interdisciplinary interest in students who have the potential to excel in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. As a part of that mission, the lab hosted all-day workshops in science and creative writing for five community organizations this summer that support minorities in the STEM fields as a part of our community outreach efforts. In total, we hosted 151 students from kindergarten to undergraduate level in the months of June and July.
In June, eighteen Pre-Pharmacy undergraduates came to Douglass Hall where we engaged them in a history lesson followed by creative writing workshop based on the Cobb Research Lab’s two skeletal collections; The Cobb Collection and The New York African Burial Ground (ABG) Collection. As the only historically black college with skeletal collections, we pride ourselves on having over 400 years of African American history in the form of these remains which affords us the possibility of groundbreaking research on campus. Earlier this year, the lab founded the Writer’s Collective, a collaborative project to write short stories and biohistories based on scientific findings from these collections. As an extension of the Writer’s Collective, the writing workshop aimed to educate the students on the historical context of the ABG and give an opportunity to strengthen creative writing skills. The ABG was a burial site for free and enslaved Africans and African Americans in 17th and 18th century New York colony, which has significant long-lasting relevance to the infrastructure, economy, and culture of this country. From an examination of the past, we encouraged students to reflect on what it may have been like to live and die in colonial New York as someone whose remains now rest in one of the ABG burial site numbers. The undergraduates, who plan to pursue careers in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, and veterinary medicine, created detailed outlines of short stories after being assigned information on an anonymous individual from the burial site. Some students were particularly excited for the chance to engage their creative side, and even had one student interested in joining the Writer’s CollecIn July, we had 27 elementary school children age five through ten from the Beth Shalom AME Zion Church STEM Summer camp. The children were treated to an all-day workshop of science activities. First, we had them do a biological experiment to extract DNA from strawberries. The students learned the simple technique which produces separation in the strawberry matter, with a clear portion in which the DNA strands are visible to the naked eye. This is a particularly fun experiment which gained interest amongst the young children. Second, we showed them a skeletal body from the Cobb Collection and taught basic human skeletal anatomy. The children had a chance to ask questions as they examined the bony structures that make the human body’s structural foundation. Lastly, we read a sample short story from the Writer’s Collective that described the narrative of a young boy working on the docks of the Hudson Bay in 17th century New York.
Also this month, we hosted 30 middle school and high school aged girls from the General Electric Girls, Inc program. (see article on previous page). We taught similar DNA extraction from strawberries, skeletal anatomy, and creative writing. Another 30 high schoolers from a PrePharmacy group participated in an anatomy study. These two groups were a pleasure to host as they were interested in the science and were passionate about careers in various fields of study.
At the end of each all-day workshop, we surveyed learning objectives to quantify success of the outreach initiatives. We were happy to learn that many of the students were excited to have the opportunity to examine skeletal remains, participate in collaborative creative writing, and perform a simple scientific experiment with basis in biology and genetics. The Cobb Research Lab looks forward to ongoing partnerships with the community at large to extend and support the advancement of STEM in minority groups that may often be limited to opportunities elsewhere. ****

Cobb Lab