The ASBMB Student Chapters outreach grant program

Published October 03 2016

Middle-school students at the University of Arizona’s 2016 Summer Science Camp BlastOff! PHOTO COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA STUDENT CHAPTER

All outreach is local. This mantra has fueled the efforts of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Public Outreach Committee since its inception. In keeping with this mantra, for the past two years, the POC has partnered with the ASBMB Student Chapters Steering Committee, known as the SCSC, to oversee the Student Chapters Outreach Grant program.

The grant program makes available up to $500 per year for individual student chapters. There are no specific instructions on how funds can be used, but chapters are required to submit detailed applications, which are reviewed by members from both the POC and the SCSC.

Examples of outreach activities supported by the Student Chapters Outreach grant program:

  • University of Arizona chapter’s “Camp BlastOff!”
    An annual, weeklong summer camp for middle-school students in which chapter members lead attendees through a series of hands-on science experiments
  • Marymount Manhattan College chapter’s “Give Us Your Organs”
    Chapter members help organize an organ donation awareness drive that registers organ donors
  • Otterbein University chapter’s “Starry Night”
    This annual STEM-themed festival in Westerville, Ohio, features a hands-on biology activity booth organized and run by chapter members
  • Wabash College chapter’s “Science Club to Science Club Initiative”
    Chapter members take part in a series of regular visits with a local elementary school science club to provide hands-on biology demonstrations
  • Wisconsin Lutheran College chapter’s “Synthetic Biology Camp”
    A weeklong summer camp organized by chapter members provides immersive learning about synthetic biology

More examples can be found here.

“A partnership between the POC and Student Chapters committee makes sense,” says Universities at Shady Grove professor and POC member Ed Eisenstein. “Local (ASBMB members) have a much better understanding of the opportunities and needs of the various student chapters, while the POC has a good perspective on effective outreach activities and assessment tools in a number of environments.”

San Francisco State University chapter adviser Teaster Baird Jr., who has served on the POC and the SCSC, agrees: “The POC benefits from the experience and established network of the ASBMB Student Chapters. The Student Chapters benefit from the concentrated focus of the POC and the expertise of its members.”

The quality of the Student Chapters Outreach Grant applications has become the program’s defining feature. “The single most impressive part of the program is the diversity of outreach activities that the program supports,” says Baird. “The student chapters that have applied have come up with creative and impactful ways to reach out to the greater community.” (See box for examples.)

In total, the program has handed out 20 awards since 2014; the outreach activities collectively have reached more than 2,000 K–12 students in 14 states. Nearly every chapter supported by the grant program has continued its outreach efforts beyond the life of the grant, with several chapters inspired to come up with new ideas for outreach activities.

A secondary benefit has been the effect on the chapter members themselves. The grant program “has provided the opportunity to students to be truly active in our chapter and not just members in name only,” says Wisconsin Lutheran College chapter adviser Andrew Mundt. Students help with putting together the grant applications and are involved intimately with the design and organization of the outreach activities. Several chapter members have presented their outreach activities at the ASBMB annual meeting outreach poster session. Some even have contributed articles about their efforts for publication. As Eisenstein sees it, these experiences will have an effect on the students for years to come. “Once students get involved in outreach activities, they are more likely to continue to promote and engage in them throughout their careers,” he says.

Where does the Student Chapters Outreach Grant program go from here? According to Baird, “the part (of the program) that needs the most work is getting more Student Chapters to apply!” University of Arizona chapter adviser Jim Hazzard, who serves on the SCSC, agrees. “The ASBMB Student Chapters faculty advisers should make greater use of this program,” he says. “I am totally amazed that these grants go undersubscribed every year and that chapter advisers do not try to obtain as much money as they can for their chapters in order to engage in meaningful outreach to their communities.”

The POC and the SCSC are working on developing standardized evaluation rubrics that can be used by chapters to assess the impact of their activities. In addition, the POC is looking to work with individual chapters to develop partnerships with local organizations, such as biotechnology companies and civic groups, that will ensure that their outreach efforts can be expanded and sustained within their communities.

For more information about the grant program, including instructions on how to apply, click here. The next deadline to apply for grants is Nov. 15.

Geoff Hunt Geoff Hunt is ASBMB’s outreach manager. Follow him on Twitter.