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Seeding Science:
Growing STEM Locally
Art Olson | Avenida Primavera


Students from Casa de Amistad meet their new Scripps mentor,
Tamara Johnson. Photo courtesy The Scripps Research Institute.

Click on image to enlarge.


Recently The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) premiered “Science Saturdays,” a new educational STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) initiative, dreamed up by the Sandpiper’s own Shirley King (full disclosure –also my wife) and funded through a generous gift from an anonymous Del Mar donor. Shirley’s idea was to impact middle and early high school students by showing them who scientists are, what scientists do, and how they might imagine pursuing science and technology career goals for themselves.


Dr. Sandra Encalada explains her research into brain
degeneration at the first Science Saturday lecture.
Photo courtesy The Scripps Research Institute.
Click on image to enlarge.


The program consists of a series of three events at TSRI during the school year, bringing in teachers and their classes to Scripps for presentations of the Institutes cutting edge research, tours of labs and a breakfast. A unique aspect of the program is that it also couples TSRI graduate students or postdocs with each teacher to work together with the students over the school year, encouraging exploration of science-related topics. Schools in the county were invited to apply and seven are participating in the first year’s program. One group that attended was from Solana Beach’s Casa de Amistad, a nonprofit organization dedicated to after-school tutoring of middle and high school underrepresented students in coastal North County San Diego. In total over 200 students came to the first event held on September 20 at the Scripps Hazen Campus (formerly the Neurosciences Institute) in La Jolla.

During the breakfast, before the talk, each group met with their Scripps mentors. Then the mentors led them into the Auditorium where Dr. Sandra Encalada gave the main presentation, describing her research on understanding the mechanisms of cargo transport inside nerve cells and how “traffic jams” caused by defective molecular motors can lead to neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s. Dr. Encalada, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, was born in Ecuador, and was appointed to the Scripps faculty in 2013. Her talk engaged the students with enlightening analogies, dynamic graphics and clear descriptions of how she uses the scientific method to conduct her research. Her audience listened with rapt attention, which was demonstrated by the scores of perceptive questions asked throughout the talk.

The arrangements and logistics for the events are facilitated by the staff of the graduate program and the Auditorium at TSRI. The talks are recorded by UCSD Television, and will be available for viewing through them. Shirley and the rest of the team that has created Science Saturdays were greatly satisfied by the first event of the school year. Two other young TSRI science stars are scheduled for the remaining events later in the school year. Shirley is looking for more donors to help support the program in the longer term.



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