At Center of Excellence, students glimpse their future
By ELLEN GOLDBAUM
Two hundred Buffalo Public Schools middle and high school students were the guests of honor on Tuesday when UB President John B. Simpson welcomed them to a tour and a morning of scientific demonstrations in the university's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.
Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent James A. Williams accompanied the students to the center, which celebrated its grand opening on Friday.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown also attended the program.
While at the state-of-the-art Center of Excellence, the students learned about life sciences and bioinformatics and the career opportunities they offer. They also participated in several hands-on, interactive, life-sciences activities, including isolating DNA and searching for genetic abnormalities.
The event, part of the month-long celebration and grand opening of the Center of Excellence, formally launched the Life Sciences Education Initiative, an ongoing effort to promote life sciences and bioinformatics careers to students and educators in grades K-12 throughout Western New York, and especially in the City of Buffalo.
The UB Center of Excellence Life Sciences Education Initiative involves numerous partnerships with elementary, middle and high schools in the area, as well as several undergraduate institutions.
Students enrolled in East High School's bioinformatics program attended Tuesday's event, as well as middle school students from the following Buffalo public schools: #4, #8, #27, #28, #31, #37, #38, #39, #43, #44, #53, #59, #66, #69, #72, #74, #76, #79, #80, #81, #89, #91, #93, #94, #96 and #97.
Simpson has long been a passionate advocate for ensuring equity and access to quality education for all students, from kindergarten through post-secondary education.
According to Simpson, a key benefit of the UB Center of Excellence is that it provides young people in the City of Buffalo and throughout the region with a visible sign that studying science and technology can lead to dynamic, exciting careers right here in Western New York.
"What an exciting way to show young people the promise of working hard in school and pursuing a career in science," said Simpson. "This marvelous new center, right in the heart of Buffalo gives us a chance to introduce some of the bright minds of tomorrow to real scientific and medical breakthroughs that are happening here today."
Williams called careers in the life sciences "the wave of the future, not only regionally, but globally. We are honored that the University at Buffalo is sharing this exceptional center with our students, and look forward to partnering with them on many projects here.
"We already have begun a bioinformatics program at East High School and will be opening the Math Science and Technology School at Seneca this fall as part of our commitment to science in our schools," he said. "We believe that exposing our students to the important and exciting work being done in the UB Center of Excellence will help guide their future education and career decisions."
Brown emphasized the importance of students in the Buffalo Public Schools becoming familiar with the UB Center of Excellence, noting that the program on Tuesday started "a new chapter in the way that our students think about science, about Buffalo and about their futures. The fact that our students are here, in the center of the city, at the University at Buffalo, signifies a meaningful and productive new partnership with UB."
During their visit to the center, the students participated in activities focused on DNA isolation, a technique that is the first step for many laboratory procedures in biotechnology; karyotyping chromosomes, the method used to detect genetic abnormalities that may result in genetic disease; computational visualization, in which scientific data on proteins and diseases are turned into high-resolution, three-dimensional displays; and the commercialization process that takes a scientific discovery from bench top to bedside.
The scientific demonstrations for the students were conducted by Jeffrey M. Conroy, co-director of the microarray and genomics core at Roswell Park Cancer Institute; Thomas R. Furlani, associate director of UB's Center for Computational Research; Mark A. Gallo, associate professor of biology at Niagara University; and Marnie LaVigne, director of business development for the Center of Excellence.
A similar program will be held on Saturday for middle and high school students from school districts in Erie and Niagara counties who participated in Science Olympiad tournaments.
While scientists are the key players in the research being conducted in the Center of Excellence, students who participate in center programs learn that many other types of careers, including those in business, technology and communications, are critical to the success of that research.
"We want the students to understand that you don't have to be a hardcore scientist to become involved in the life sciences," said LaVigne. "Science is a huge part of what we do, but developing products and services to improve the health care of the general population goes hand-in-hand with our scientific focus."
The UB Center of Excellence Life Sciences Education Initiative has several components designed to pique and sustain the interest of a broad range of students in bioinformatics and related areas.
This year, the initiative introduced a pilot program in the Advanced Placement biology classes of several Erie County high schools.
Called "Fowl Play," the curriculum involves teams of students who are responsible for guiding their communities through a simulated global flu pandemic. Among the activities are laboratory work, including virus isolation and genome sequencing, as well as research on the flu. At the end of the semester, the teams compete to determine the best solution to the pandemic.
The Life Sciences Education Initiative is being sponsored by UB, the UB Center of Excellence, the UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology, Niagara University and the Buffalo Museum of Science.
Gov. George Pataki proposed the creation of the Center of Excellence in 2001 as part of a plan to jump-start the New York State economy through creation of high-technology centers of excellence across the state. A major research center of UB, the Center of Excellence works in close collaboration with research partners Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute.