Faculty Highlight: Deanna Thompson

Sending Teachers Back to School

BME Faculty Highlights Series
Associate Professor Deanna Thompson and the Pre-College Teachers Training Program in Stem Cell Biology and Bioengineering

This article is the second in a series aimed at spotlighting the faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at RPI. In this series, we will highlight biomedical research areas, cutting edge engineering techniques, student and trainee successes, as well as the broader societal impacts of the work in BME. Stay tuned each month of this academic year for more features, and follow us on Twitter @RPI_BME (https://twitter.com/RPI_BME).

If you had walked into Biomedical Engineering teaching laboratories this past summer, you would have encountered a class of unlikely students: a dozen middle and high school biology teachers paying rapt attention to their lab assignment. Over six weeks in July and August, Associate Professor in Biomedical Engineering, Dr. Deanna Thompson, and Stem Cell Core Director, Dr. Brigitte Arduini, hosted teachers from 10 different school systems in the New York Capital Region as Program Directors of the inaugural RPI Pre-College Teachers Training Program in Stem Cell Biology and Bioengineering.

Thompson, an expert in neural tissue engineering, uses neural stem cells in her research and was eager to share the latest in stem cell science and biological sciences with biology teachers in the region.

“They were so enthusiastic about learning,” marveled Thompson, “that it was very rewarding way to spend the summer.” Thompson was especially proud that she and her team had built this year’s program from the ground up, to emphasize not only stem cell biology but also science literacy, technologies and mathematics used to study biology, and the social impact and ethical considerations of biomedical research.

“By teaching the teachers, we can broadly impact many students interest in the STEM fields as well as contribute to the overall science literacy to critically evaluate information in medicine, human health and beyond.” Thompson adds, “teachers are shaping the lives of our future engineers, scientists and physicians who may be inspired to develop the next ground-breaking discovery that will change the world.”

Four days a week, participants of the program started their days with morning seminars taught by Rensselaer faculty from various departments and covering diverse topics ranging from development to disease modeling to biomanufacturing. Arduini imparted her expert knowledge of developmental biology and embryonic stem cells in several of the morning seminars as well as through her leadership and guidance in the stem cell experiments held in the New York State Stem Cell Initiative, or NYSTEM, funded Stem Cell Core Facility.

Thompson, Arduini, and a group of postdoctoral scholars and graduate students supervised and aided the teachers in running experiments within the Core Facility. The teachers also had the opportunity to learn first-hand about stem cell research techniques through their involvement in the laboratories of BME, chemical engineering, or biology faculty mentors and their participation in common lab activities in the BME teaching labs. During the six weeks of the program, teachers worked both together and independently to develop classroom activities to bring stem cell biology to their middle and high school classrooms.

Funding for the program – participants received $1000 weekly stipends and up to $750 in supplies to help implement their new stem cell curricula – was made possible by NYSTEM with additional support provided through National Science Foundation grant supplements for Research Experiences for Teachers. Although the teachers have only had a few short months since summer to implement their new curriculum ideas, the feedback so far has been highly positive. After this school year, Thompson and Arduini plan to meet with the teachers to evaluate what worked well and share effective curricula on their website, where they hope this program will be able to impact many more teachers in the Capital Region and beyond.

You can learn more about the program (http://stemcells.rpi.edu/teachers/), as well as the faculty from various Rensselaer departments including BME and the teachers from school districts around the Capital Region that participated (http://stemcells.rpi.edu/mentors/).