Our adventures in science outreach: from cell-inspired art to a lab-on-wheels

Faculty and undergraduate volunteers (from left to right: Nathan Grinalds, Kendall Ziegler, Austin Kratz, Bella Grifasi, Mike Rizzo, Jackson Sparks, Prowler the Panther, Neil Coffield and Verónica Segarra) in front of the HPU Mobile Lab (before COVID-19).
Faculty and undergraduate volunteers (from left to right: Nathan Grinalds, Kendall Ziegler, Austin Kratz, Bella Grifasi, Mike Rizzo, Jackson Sparks, Prowler the Panther, Neil Coffield and Verónica Segarra) in front of the HPU Mobile Lab (before COVID-19).

Receiving an ASCB COMPASS Outreach grant in 2016 helped us jump-start our science outreach efforts at High Point University (HPU), a private liberal arts college in North Carolina. Not only did receiving these grant funds allow us to kick off our Cell Art Collaborative (CAC) pilot outreach efforts, but it also fueled our interest in engaging in outreach more regularly and in the context of service-learning (1), stirred new ideas for additional outreach programs, and helped inspire undergraduates pursuing careers at the intersection of art, science, and education (2). In this blog, we share some of our adventures in science outreach and how we have adapted our outreach to these COVID-19 times.


Artwork representing a neural network by high school student Sam Kolbet made during the Cell Art Collaborative 2019. He titled the piece, “Get Fired Up”.

Since the founding of the CAC community outreach series, our HPU undergraduate students have played a prominent and impactful role in fostering scientific and artistic creativity in local budding high school scientists. As part of the CAC, undergraduates develop inquiry-based experiments and activities spanning a broad range of topics in cell biology—from cheek cell staining and imaging to electrophysiology. These activities create an engaging environment for local student artists, providing them with inspiration to generate science-inspired artwork that is showcased every year at a public art exhibit on our campus (see exhibit picture). We used the success of the first CAC event to advocate and secure funds from HPU to continue the program, now in its fifth year, and an official NC Science Festival event. Through a Cultural Program grant at HPU, not only have we been able to sustain the program, but we also are able to host an invited artist-scientist every year. Guest speakers have included Ahna Skop, Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Julia Buntaine Hoel, Founder & Director at SciArt Initiative and STEAMplant Coordinator at the Pratt Institute, and Casey Garr (https://garrbiomedicalvisuals.com/), medical illustrator/animator and HPU alumna (class of 2017). In fact, Casey helped implement the very first CAC program, using her passion for both science and art as a way to engage the public. We recently published a short article in the scientific journal Autophagy that chronicles the stories behind our HPU undergraduates (including Casey) and local community members using the CAC as a way to create a niche that integrates both art and science (2).

Undergraduate volunteers Sarah Jiudice and Jeremy Muhr use electrophysiology activities to illustrate the science of muscle contraction during Experiment Day 2019.

As we viewed the community’s enthusiastic response to our CAC efforts, we sought out additional ways to expand our scientific outreach. This was one of the forces that drove us to create HPU’s Mobile Lab program. The Mobile Lab serves as a lab-on-wheels, allowing us to easily drive to local schools and museums to engage others in STEM experiences (see picture). The lab has participated in many educational programs, including appearances at the Greensboro Science Center and our famous on-campus Community Christmas. Since the beginning of its operation in 2018, the Mobile Lab has served 53,688 local community members at 25 different outreach events with the help of 195 undergraduate students and 86 faculty volunteers.

A virtual COVID-19-themed “Meet a Scientist” session with the Berman family, teachers, and (from left to right) Verónica Segarra, Neil Coffield, Rodney Reynolds, and Todd Knippenberg.

To make sure we continue to build on the relationships we have established with community partners and local students, we have adapted our science outreach methods in response to the COVID-19 crisis. We want to remain connected to our community and continue to build on the early success of our outreach efforts. As part of our menu of remote STEM activities, community members have been able to access a variety of online programming through the mobile lab website, including a virtual CAC Art Exhibit and Keynote Talk. Activities that can be completed remotely also include coloring pages, Meet-a-scientist sessions (see picture), and step-by-step instructional STEM TikTok videos posted to the Mobile Lab’s Twitter and TikTok pages (@HPUMobileLab).

In 2016 we were super excited to receive an ASCB COMPASS Outreach grant to implement the CAC program and find creative ways to engage our local community with STEM. In the process, we also created opportunities for HPU undergraduates to experience communicating their love for science, teaching, and mentoring others in local schools and venues. We now look back at all the exciting memories we have created and all the community members we have served, and we cannot help but feel excited about what the future holds for our outreach efforts, even though we continue to face the COVID-19 crisis. We look forward to learning from other COMPASS Outreach grantees as they, like us, strive to adapt their outreach to remote delivery methods for the benefit of their communities during these difficult times.

Note: Candyce Sturgeon (HPU ’21), Clara Primus (HPU ’22), and Rachel Berndsen (HPU ’20) are undergraduate research assistants who help Dr. Segarra implement science outreach programs.

For more information on Verónica Segarra’s outreach programs and HPU’s Mobile Lab:

For more information on starting an outreach program:


About the Author:

Candyce Sturgeon (HPU '21) is a studio art major, biology minor at High Point University who wants to pursue a career in medical illustration.
Clara Primus (HPU ’22) is a biology major, civic responsibility/social innovation minor at High Point University who is excited about a future career in emergency medicine.
Rachel Berndsen (HPU ’20) earned her biology degree this past May at High Point University with minors in psychology and sales and is currently planning her transition into medical school.
Verónica A. Segarra is an assistant professor of biology (@SegarraVeronica) at High Point University in High Point, North Carolina. Her lab studies membrane trafficking under stress and starvation conditions. She has a strong interest in outreach that provides talented and creative high school students an opportunity to experience scientific experiments to help shape their future goals.