Middle school students to visit UI biology department for STEM
Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Employment opportunities in the health science fields will be the topic of discussion when students from two eastern Iowa middle schools visit the University of Iowa Department of Biology during the next six weeks.

Around 140 eighth grade students from Fairfield middle school will visit the UI Friday, March 1, while students from Columbus Junction and North Scott are scheduled to visit April 11. The visits are the culmination of a six-week program called Project HOPE (Healthcare, Occupations, Preparation and Exploration), a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)-based career education program designed to connect minority and low socioeconomic middle school students to the health science professions early in their education.

The project, developed by Saba Ali, an associate professor in the UI Counseling Psychology Department in the UI College of Education, addresses the need to increase diversity in the American healthcare workforce and works with students in rural Iowa communities with large Hispanic immigrant populations.

Less than one percent of the healthcare workforce in Iowa is composed of minorities and only between five and nine percent nationwide, says Ali.

The program is currently in place in West Liberty and Columbus Junction, two Iowa communities with large Latino populations, and at four other locations in southeastern Iowa. (Students from West Liberty and Eldridge, Iowa, visited the UI in January.)

While on campus, the eighth graders meet with health science professionals to experience career simulations of various health care and research careers. One such research career simulation conducted in the Department of Biology is coordinated by Lori Adams, a lecturer in the department, and undergraduate student volunteers, including those in the Iowa Biosciences Advantage (IBA) program, the Biology Honors program, and the UI BIO (University of Iowa Biological Interests Organization) student organization.

Ryan Ries, a Biology Honors Program student in the Fritzsch Lab (UI Department of Biology), and Carl Soderlund, a student in the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Science Education program, were recently hired by Adams through a grant titled “Expanding and Enhancing STEM Initiatives within CLAS” ( College of Liberal Arts and Sciences).

Funded by an initiative called “Better Futures for Iowans,” the two students will work with Adams on planning and coordinating outreach events, such as Project HOPE. This initiative, supported primarily by the Office of the Provost, extends university resources to Iowans and addresses an important goal of the University Strategic Plan—to provide better futures for Iowans.

Adams and the two UI students will engage the middle school students in scientific inquiry where they take part in hands-on activities designed to simulate the work of a scientist.

Project HOPE is a collaboration between the UI Colleges of Education, Medicine, Dentistry, Law, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health, Business, Engineering, Liberal Arts and Sciences (Departments of Biology, Physics and Astronomy, Communication Sciences and Disorders, and School of Art and Art History), School of Urban and Regional Planning, Hardin Library for the Health Sciences, and the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa. Because Project HOPE was selected as one of 12 of Gov. Terry Branstad’s STEM Scale-Up projects in 2012-13, the program will be allowed to expand into additional communities.

For more information about Project HOPE, contact Ali at saba-ali@uiowa.edu.