EPSCoR helps SCC project to spread citizen science

April 12, 2023

A new “citizen science” partnership, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), focuses on the genetics of our four-legged friends, to interest local students in Nebraska’s biotechnology jobs.

The 2022-25 project aims to “directly connect biotechnology to students’ lives.” Misty Wehling, co-chair of Southeast Community College’s Biotechnology Program, said participating students collect cheek-swab DNA samples from their own pets for research on the role a dog’s genes play in its social behavior. The activities should also increase scientific literacy and engagement with science and technology among high school and college students and their teachers.

Nebraska biology and agriculture teachers have begun SCC-led workshops in laboratory techniques to implement the canine course-based research experience. The next workshop will take place in June 2023, onsite at industry partner Neogen. Classroom support and kits containing all the supplies and equipment needed for the activity are available for teachers. Nebraska EPSCoR plans to include project resources in its mobile lab kits for classrooms across the state, to sustain the genetics learning beyond the project.

“This project provides a model for supporting high school teachers, including those in resource-limited areas, as they incorporate new engaging curricula,” said Wehling, who is the grant's principal investigator. “It also models partnership with industry and other organizations to increase awareness, knowledge, and skills related to biotechnology careers important to developing our state’s competitive STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workforce.”

“Authentic biotechnology research experiences developed in collaboration with industry have the potential to attract high school student interest in this high-growth field,” Wehling said. “This project leverages existing partnerships with Nebraska’s regional bioscience industry and educational associations to expand implementation of such a research experience, offering insight into the rules of life in dogs.”

 two individuals hold a small, white dog while one collects a sample for testing

two female students wearing rubber gloves transfer a sample from a pipette to a tube for testing

Photos caption: students and teachers begin biotechnology activities for NSF genetics learning.