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March 7, 2019
Earlier this week, 7th graders from the Science and Leadership Academy Middle School (SLAMS) in West Philadelphia experienced a “home-coming” of sorts when they reunited with the Science Center’s FirstHand program; but this time in its new home at 3675 Market. When the students participated in Polymer Play previously, FirstHand was still in its original location at 3624 Market.
The setting for this opportunity to re-engage was through Thermo Fisher Scientific's corporate social responsibility commitment, InnovatioNation Science Education Outreach Program, whose mission aligns with FirstHand’s in seeking to expose local students to careers in STEM and to help them understand and explore what such a career would entail.
Diana Potts, Community Partnerships Coordinator at SLAMS explains, “It was very valuable to the 7th grade class especially in a year when they are thinking about high schools to apply to and potential career paths. This has been a great experience for them to have a hands-on experience with the Thermo Fisher science equipment, work with the scientists from Thermo Fisher and also to reconnect with you [FirstHand] and see the new lab space.”
Diana Potts, Community Partnerships Coordinator at SLAMS
Thermo Fisher Scientific is a long-time supporter and partner of the Science Center. The company has donated specialized lab equipment to FirstHand as well as providing sponsorship support for the Science Center’s programs. Most importantly, they are committed to inspiring the next generation of innovators through volunteering and mentorship.
The two half-day sessions included pipetting practice and running gels for a DNA profiling activity. The volunteers from Thermo Fisher included a variety of roles from scientists to sales managers. They had a chance to provide the students with the unique opportunity to use Thermo Fisher equipment and run DNA forensics tests; tools and skills they might not typically be exposed to.
Noah Lewis, 7th Grade student at SLAMS
When a gel-viewer was switched “on” for students to view and compare DNA samples, student Isaiah Roberts recited lyrics from Pulitzer prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar’s song DNA, “I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.”
Classmate Noah Lewis, on the other hand, drew inspiration from a less contemporary icon. “We used things we’ve never used before. We’ve used pipettes before, but they were the plastic ones. Getting to use this one is really cool, and I like how you can adjust the microliters. I like how you can used dye as an example as a sort of DNA to practice which I thought was fun. And the relationship to King Tut because interesting facts are always good,” he reflects, referencing the use of 3300 year-old DNA samples by scientists, to answer questions surrounding the mysterious ruler.
Interesting facts are always good, and so is the opportunity to connect with young people to demonstrate the value of STEM education. And if as professionals we can occasionally take a break from the routine of our work day to witness kids taking part in the “cooler” aspects of science and engage with students in a meaningful way, all the better. Together, as a community, we can make an impact and broaden young people’s horizons.