2019 WiSE Fun with DNA Camp

Cassidy Danyko, Chair of WiSE Outreach

This August, WiSE Outreach hosted the 3rd Annual WiSE Fun with DNA Camp in collaboration with the Dolan DNA Learning Center (DNALC). WiSE Fun with DNA stands out from the other DNALC’s camps by being reserved exclusively for girls and taking place in a real laboratory at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory main campus. An exciting addition to this year’s camp was the introduction of our scholarship program designed to cover tuition costs for two students from underrepresented minority populations and underserved areas. WiSE Outreach Co-Chairs, Cassidy Danyko and Lyndsey Aguirre, teamed up with the Amityville School District, where science teachers from the Park Avenue Elementary School nominated scientifically motivated students to apply for the scholarship. This scholarship program welcomed two bright future scientists to our campus, and provided them with an exciting and immersive summer experience that they otherwise might not have had an opportunity to participate in. We look forward to expanding the scholarship program next year.

2019 Camp Activities:
After traditional DNALC Fun with DNA camp classes during the day, including building a model cell, extracting DNA from bananas, creating a model DNA molecule, and examining mutant organisms under a microscope, the 22 girls joined WiSE to end the days with special WiSE-curated activities. This year’s activities included topics of plant biology, neuroscience, data science, and protein structure.

Plant Biology Day was led by CSHL graduate student and WiSE Outreach Co-Chair Lyndsey Aguirre who brought the girls to the CSHL Uplands Farm where they were introduced to the work of former CSHL scientist and Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock. Farm director, Tim Mulligan, gave the girls a tour of the greenhouses where the model organisms used by the CSHL plant department, including Arabidopsis, corn, ground cherry, and tomato, are grown. Tim ended his tour with a short talk about how climate change is impacting agriculture and the importance of sustainable farming practices before the girls were sent home with living jewelry (seeds in growth media) to try out their newfound green thumbs!

Up next was Neuroscience Day, where the girls rotated through 3 neuroscience activities. They examined real preserved brains to learn about the anatomy and functions of different regions. To learn about neuron structure and function, the girls constructed pipe cleaner neuron models with myelin sheath beads. They also had the chance to use Backyard Brains equipment that allowed the students to control a claw with their own muscle contractions to pick up a ball as an example of neuroprosthesis.

On day three, Olivia Mendivil Ramos, PhD, introduced an exciting new component to our camp with an activity centered around data science. Olivia walked the girls through some math to show them just how big some datasets can be, drawing parallels to the number of stars in the universe. She then guided the girls through a BLAST algorithm game. The campers were challenged to search for a single gene in a bag full of hundreds of other genes. As girls chanted “BLAST! BLAST! BLAST!”, they raced to find their target gene. Olivia then showed them how quickly computers can automate the process. The campers walked away with a better grasp on what “sequencing data” really means and it was a fun way to introduce them to the world of big data.

Another exciting addition to this year’s camp was a protein day led WiSE Social Media Chair and CSHL graduate student Brianna Bibel, or better known as The Bumbling Biochemist. The campers toured Bri’s lab and learned about the different equipment used to study proteins, including a close look at the Cryo-EM machine guided by fellow graduate student Katie Meze. Bri then led them through an activity where the campers built their own paper model GFP proteins, emphasizing the primary, secondary, and tertiary structures of proteins.

The camp concluded with Parent Participation Day, which included a tour of campus and a science fair where the girls taught their parents what they learned. Throughout the week, the campers thrived in the unique learning environment we created, engaging in activities with excitement. Our WiSE volunteers were not only helpful in teaching activities, but also inspired the girls to ask questions and be curious. They were great role models for the girls and we are very thankful for their support and willingness to be mentors. A big thank you to: Amanda McBrien, Cassidy Danyko, Lyndsey Aguirre, Jennifer Galasso, Ally Nowlan, Tim Mulligan, Dani Ciren, Sophia Zebell, Bruno Gegenhuber, Sara Boyle, Marie Dussuaze, Olivia Mendivil Ramos, Sarah Park, Briana Bibel, Katie Meze, Dennis Thomas, Tzvia Pinkhasov, Kelly Hills-Muckey.

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