High school students in an iGEM environment

A Social Experiment

This year, for the first time, we carried out a bit of a social experiment: we invited a substantial number of local high school students to join the team. In the end, the team is composed of five high school students, in grades ranging from 10 to 12, and four undergraduates, one from each academic year and none with previous iGEM experience. The idea is two-fold: firstly, to extend the reach of the iGEM experience to a different audience of students, effectively expanding the outreach of synthetic biology; and secondly, to see if the different background and perspectives of younger students would have an impact on the nature of the science done.

Although we expected that the HS students would have formal coursework background, there were several unanticipated obstacles. One was school schedules. High school classes run until nearly the end of June, limiting the participation of the HS students during the initial phase of the project. Another was logistics and transportation. Generally the HS students neither lived on campus nor drove a vehicle, complicating their availability especially for after-hours lab sessions. However there were also unanticipated benefits. The younger students brought a level of enthusiasm which readily overcame any differences in background. Moreover, the undergraduates and HS students bonded during lab hours and discussions of topics ranging from religion (adherents of most of the world’s major groups were present) to card games and beyond.

Overall, the effort was demanding but positive, and something we will recommend U of A iGEM teams consider in future years.