Epidemiological Investigation of Commonly Acquired Infections at Animal Shelters as a Method to Teach High-School Students Microbiology and Veterinary Medicine (Lead PI: Dan Purcell)

Epidemiological Investigation of Commonly Acquired Infections at Animal Shelters as a Method to Teach High-School Students Microbiology and Veterinary Medicine

Students Reached: 45 high school students, 21 of whom conducted research
Lead Researcher:  Dr. Dan Purcell, University of New Mexico
Lead Teacher:  Dr. David Osmond, the ASK Academy in Rio Rancho, N.M.

The ASK (attitude, skills, and knowledge) academy is a public charter school with an emphasis on STEM and community service. Students have every Friday available to them for research on a project of their choosing, and members of the community will present problems to students that often become the basis of their research projects. The proposal supported by this award expands on the work of a previous student, who was approached by a local animal shelter for help in dealing with a rash of kennel cough cases among their dogs. Dr. David Osmond, a teacher as the ASK Academy, and Dr. Dan Purcell, of the University of New Mexico, developed a volunteer project where students could collect samples and perform microbiological techniques to determine what parts of a given animal shelter had higher levels of the bacteria associated with kennel cough infections. In this way, targeted efforts to reduce kennel cough infection could be enforced. In addition, all students involved with this program, even if they could not work directly with the animal shelter, were taught about the various STEM and health-related career opportunities available to them.

Dr. Osmond incorporated directed inquiry activities into the science curriculum to teach students the necessary background knowledge and the techniques needed to complete their experiments. The students worked together on their research projects over the academic year. Students generated a report after finishing their experiments to share their findings with the school and the community. Dr. Purcell led interactive demonstrations over the academic year, teaching students about both discoveries and unanswered questions within molecular biology. Dr. Purcell also had students assess data from his lab and decide if they agreed with his conclusions or not, based on how the experiments were designed and if they were properly controlled.

Only three students were able to work with the animal shelter due to size constraints, but the remaining 18 research students collected samples from various public spaces to see if bacteria similar to those that cause kennel cough could be found. Of the 21 students who did research, 11 were from groups underrepresented in STEM and 6 were from low-income households. The ASK Academy is equipped with a biosafety level 2 lab in which all experiments were performed. In total, 45 students were taken on a tour to the cadaver lab at the University of New Mexico and to the largest veterans’ affairs clinical laboratory in the state to better inform them about the diversity of health-related careers.

ASBMB HOPES funding was used for the tours of the medical facilities and to purchase the materials needed for student experiments. This program will be continued in the future, but the emphasis of research topics will be on areas that businesses would not view as potentially negative for them (i.e. a shelter worried that it will get a reputation for easily transmitting kennel cough) while allowing students to choose their own projects to maximize their engagement. More trips to emphasize the variety of STEM careers available and more demonstrations from guest scientists will also be added.