Science teacher April Baucom donned a lab coat not in preparation for a biology class but to begin her summer research in the lab of Allan Brown, PhD.
Brown, a part of the NC State University Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis, investigates the human health benefits of broccoli, cabbage, and blueberries. Baucom, a veteran science teacher at Kannapolis City Schools’ A.L. Brown High School, is assisting with the blueberry research.
“We can compare the DNA of different species. We’re looking for markers or mutations,” Baucom explained. “This basically gives a lot of evolutionary evidence if species came from another or if they are a whole species unto themselves.”
Her research experience this summer builds on the experience she gained in the summer of 2010 working in the lab of Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, PhD, another NCSU and PHHI researcher who specializes in postharvest physiology. Perkins-Veazie evaluates breeding materials, storage strategies and packaging and the consideration of the safety, quality, and consumer appeal of characteristics of fruits and vegetables.
“Last summer, I worked more with postharvest nutrition,” Baucom said. “I harvested raspberries and blackberries and looked at the nutritional value after they were harvested, seven days later, and after they were frozen. We did some other studies with watermelon from seven different states and looked at antioxidants. It was very interesting and different from anything else I’d ever done.”
In the Classroom
For Baucom, the significance of the summer research experience is in the translation to her biology classroom.
“What I learned in Dr. Perkins-Veazie’s lab, I used more in my Advanced Placement biology course,” Baucom said. “We do labs where you look at the compounds in plants. I’m able to use a lot of examples of what I did. In my other classes, I stress the lab techniques and basic lab skills I learned.”
Her experience helps her make science relevant to her students. “Before it’s just been about learning a technique, but now I can say why we use that technique,” Baucom said. “You have to make it relevant. Students have to see that there is a reason and purpose for what they are doing, that there are goals being achieved.”
Baucom also stresses the scope of biotechnology to her students from the laboratory, to the dinner table, medicine cabinet, and fuel tank. “It’s a wide open and very broad field that impacts everyone. I can’t imagine anyone who is not impacted by biotechnology,” she said. For her students, an immediate impact is the opportunity to intern at NCRC.
“We have a lot of students that intern in high school,” Baucom continued. “There’s been up to four in the PHHI labs and some in the UNC building and the core lab. One student even helped with paperwork. So the internships aren’t all science, but the students go from no direction to being interested in science. Some have even come back from college and continue interning in the summer.” Kannapolis City Schools is escalating that impact with the opening of a new STEM Academy at A.L. Brown High School in the fall of 2011 that will include laboratories with advanced equipment and house the biotechnology, engineering, and health occupations programs.