Latino STEM Alliance Visits the BROAD Institute

img_5626On November 22ndThe Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard hosted twenty-eight students from the Latino STEM Alliance, offering them opportunities to learn about DNA and gene editing and meet real researchers working on cutting edge projects.

During the visit, volunteer researchers led students through an accessible hands-on activity that reinforced how genes are expressed as traits, and provided time for students to ask questions about the paths they took to become scientists. The event, planned by United Way BoSTEM team members in collaboration with the Latino STEM Alliance, gave students a glimpse into the life and work of scientists driving our understanding of genetics and life changing technologies.

Students and volunteer researchers began this event by breaking the ice with a game of Science Bingo. During the game, students jumped out of their seats to find someone who knew how to pronounce ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ or who majored in biology in college. This fun networking activity allowed students to get comfortable engaging with the Broad Institute scientists, while encouraging them to think about their futures in high school, college, and beyond.

img_5630Following the icebreaker, researchers led Latino STEM Alliance students in an activity called DNA: A Recipe for Traits, in which students followed instructions written in DNA code to draw dogs that reflect specific characteristics. This activity served to introduce students to the field of genetics and the work of Dr. Feng Zhang, a lead Broad Institute researcher who many of the volunteers leading this event worked with to edit the genomes of eukaryotic cells with the CRISPR and Cas9 enzymes.

Upon completing the DNA activity, students were treated to a presentation by Dr. Zhang himself, who further explained his work and its applications in medicine and agriculture, including how gene editing with CRISPR and Cas9 enzymes can be used to repair damaged organs or grow strawberries that smell like bananas. This presentation revealed to students how DNA and genetics are intertwined with everyday life, and how scientists use their understanding of DNA to develop technologies that improve our standard of living.

After delving into the complex world of DNA and gene editing, students had a chance to meet briefly with each individual researcher in a round of “speed mentoring.” This activity, set up like speed dating, allowed students to ask specific Broad Institute scientists questions about their research, their education, and their lives as scientists.

By meeting these STEM professionals and learning about the work they do, students were exposed to a multitude of career possibilities in science. Moreover, they left the Broad Institute with a better understanding of what it is like to work as a scientist and how to place themselves on a path to become one.

If you or your organization is interested in getting involved in a similar BoSTEM event, please reach out to Scott Collins, BoSTEM Coordinator at the United Way, at scollins@supportunitedway.org