By Jennifer Woodford
As a child, TinChung Leung, PhD, enjoyed raising fish. Today, he is a scientist with the NC Central University Nutrition Research Program at the NC Research Campus and an expert in the use of zebra fish as a model system for cancer and cardiovascular disease research.
A hobby evolving into a scientific passion is the experience that motivated Leung to work with Kannapolis City Schools (KCS), the Kannapolis Education Foundation (KEF) and the City of Kannapolis to take over 125 KCS middle and high school students to the main campus of NC Central University (NCCU) in Durham in February and March.
The students were the first from KCS to take part in BRITE Futures, NCCU’s science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) education program. Over 5,000 students have participated in BRITE Futures since the program launched in 2008.
The students had the chance to try hands-on, laboratory experiments and tour the biology department. “This is an opportunity for students to use equipment and run experiments they normally wouldn’t get to,” said Betty Brown, BRITE Futures teacher.
“We hope to inspire these students to pursue biotechnology or other scientific fields,” Leung said. “Experiences like this can transform the students’ expectations and understanding because when we are children everything can inspire us. It can be very powerful!”
Xiaohe Yang, MD, PhD, also with the NCCU at the NC Research Campus, assisted with the trips. “I do believe young kids benefit from early exposure to science,” he said. “This program can be one factor that helps them decide on their future.”
Yang speaks from experience. He researches breast cancer. His father was a chemistry teacher, and his son is in medical school.
The City of Kannapolis is underwriting the program with a $5,000 Community Development Block Grant.
“We feel it is important for people in Kannapolis to understand more about science and technology and how it relates to their lives, and, for students, how science relates to their career choices,” said Irene Sacks, director of business and community affairs for the City of Kannapolis.
Eric Dearmon, a member of the KEF Board of Directors, added, “We want to promote partnerships between the schools and the campus. My hope is that there will be many more of these programs jointly gone into over the coming years to introduce our young people to the sciences.”
For more information, visit www.ncresearchcampus.net.