From the Autism Spectrum to Australia, ASCB Outreach Grants Fund Innovative Science Outreach Programs


Zenobia Cofer helped organize a Community Science Carnival for Philadelphia grade school students. Photo by Stacey Moore.

Zenobia Cofer helped organize a Community Science Carnival for Philadelphia grade school students. Photo by Stacey Moore.

There were 12 high school students in all, half with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), at a three-day intensive science workshop last August in Brookville, NY. The program was one of 11 funded in part last year by ASCB’s Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS) Outreach Grant program with grants ranging from $150 to $800. Proposed by ASCB members, the 2015 funded projects were in places as far flung as Brisbane, Australia, and inner city Philadelphia. COMPASS is now accepting proposals from ASCB members for new outreach projects this year

The Brookville ASD workshop was organized by Azad Gucwa, ASCB member and professor at Long Island University (LIU)-Post Campus, along with Kathleen Feeley, LIU professor and director of the Center for Community Inclusion. “Many students with ASD have a particular strength in mastering the science curriculum,” Gucwa and Feeley wrote. “Unfortunately, social, behavioral and/or communicative challenges may prevent them from participating in community based extracurricular activities alongside their typically developing peers… The overarching goal of this event is to begin bridging the gap that currently exists amongst this population of students, by providing the opportunities for individuals with ASD to interact with typical peers in a safe educational environment that provides the necessary supports for success.”

The high schoolers spent the first two days of the no-fee workshop immersed in lab learning about endocytosis and pinocytosis, performing immunofluorescence experiments and microplate assays to measure internalization. On the third day participants met with a panel of academic and industry scientists to talk about science careers.

Another outreach grant went to ASCB member Zenobia Cofer, postdoc at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who helped organize a Community Science Carnival for Philadelphia grade school students last summer. The event was staged under the aegis of the Science Education Academy (SEA), a nonprofit, community program established in 2008 to supplement science and math. SEA is targeted at low-income second- and third-grade students who come to the programs on Saturday mornings in West Philadelphia. Cofer is a volunteer SEA mentor. The science carnival was held at White Rock Baptist Church, 53rd and Chestnut Street, in inner city Philadelphia. At the church, the SEA students studied zebrafish larvae through microscopes, made liquid nitrogen ice cream, dissected animal organs, and made edible molecules.

Halloween Science Night in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Derrick McVicker.

Halloween Science Night in Madison, Wisconsin organized by Derrick McVicker.

Other ASCB members who were awarded 2015 outreach grants include:

  • Derrick McVicker, postdoc at University of Wisconsin, Madison, organized a “Halloween Science Night” at the Lussier Community Education Center, an organization that serves the west side of Madison, Wisconsin. Over 150 K-12 students and their parents extracted DNA, saw fluorescence microscopy, and discussed stem cells.
  • Sarah N. Deffit, postdoc at Indiana University, organized a three-day inquiry-based workshop for middle school students at a local public school in Indianapolis, IN. The students spent two days in their classroom using Caenorhabditis elegans to experimentally investigate their own questions in basic science before traveling to Butler University to explore careers in science and present their experimental findings at a research symposium.
  • Joyce Belcher, assistant professor at Cabrini College near Philadelphia, organized work stations that would teach grade schoolers about cells, their structure, function and diversity, as well as the technology used to study them. Belcher and the Cabrini College Science Club presented their hands-on cell programs on several visits to Arthur Elementary, a public school in the Philadelphia district.
  • Anel Lizcano, postdoc at University of California, San Diego (UCSD), worked with UCSD’s Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) chapter to reach out to minority 4th-6th grade students in National City, CA. The students worked on a classroom science experiment before taking a field trip to UCSD where they toured labs, met researchers, and participated in science activities.
  • Participants in a science program at UT Southwestern organized by Saipraveen Srinivasan.

    Participants in a science program at UT Southwestern organized by Saipraveen Srinivasan.

    Saipraveen Srinivasan, a postdoc at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, planned a lecture and hands-on activity for middle and high school students at STEM-focused Irma Rangel and William’s Uplift schools in collaboration with UT Southwestern’s Outreach Committee.

  • Jessica DeSimone and Kelly Salmon along with Anna Prescott, grad students at Dartmouth University, were organizers of “Science Day at Dartmouth,” which brought over 200 children and teenagers from the local community to participate in activities ranging from microbial ice nucleation, to microscopy, from DNA isolation to plant physiology.
  • Guillermo Gomez, grad student at University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, added a cell biology component to the Solid Pathways Program, a unique, academic extension program designed for Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders, and Out–of–Home Care (OOHC) students in grades 4-12 who have been identified as top performers in Australian national education exams.
  • Michael Lemieux, graduate student at University of Connecticut, collaborated with CaresBio Laboratory, founded by ASCB member Sriparna Ghosh, to create a summer science mentoring program. The program brought PhD mentors together with 4th-12th grade students for two-hour Saturday classes for five weeks to encourage students to explore an interest in science.
  • Kelsey Ladt, UCSD graduate student and volunteer for the UCSD Neuroscience Outreach Program, linked up with the Teacher Training Program that partners with local high school teachers to promote accessible, laboratory-style approaches to teaching neuroscience. With her ASCB outreach grant, Ladt and colleagues were able to create a new lesson plan that allowed students to measure the electrical activity of their own muscles, opening the door to discussions about the cell biology of neurons and muscle.

This year COMPASS will offer another two cycles of outreach grants, with deadlines of February 15 and September 1. Click here for more information on how to apply.

About the Author:

Christina Szalinski is a science writer with a PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Pittsburgh.