My days as a Woodrow Wilson Fellow
by Ginger Torregrossa
Four weeks out of the kitchen
June 28, 1999
Here at last. The Leadership Workshop in affiliation with the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation started today. Everyone seemed a little nervous and shy, but it's a fine group and I know we'll have lots of fun. Although I definitely see conflicts in the future due to the assortment of ages, experiences, and attitudes. Looks like the study of biodiversity can start with US.
After two days of cognitive theory and leadership techniques, we're ready for some juicy science content. Met three gentlemen who will be helping us: Kefyn Catley of the American Museum of Natural History, and Michael Levandowsky and Tom Gorrell of Pace University. They are so understated and approachable. I have high hopes for the learning opportunity since there is definitely no intimidation factor from them.
July 2, 3, 4
The last few days have been so busy that it's time to catch up. Have made many new contacts. People from all over the map are here and each has a story to tell. We have three from Puerto Rico, one who teaches for the Department of Defense in Japan, many from the East Coach (New Jersey, Philadelphia). The southern contingent includes Alabama, Virginia and of course ... the beautiful Lone Star State. Still others come from Florida, California and even Alaska. I'm hearing a chorus of "It's a Small World After All" ...
Friday we went to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Dr. Catley was our host and gave us terrific insight into the concept of biodiversity, as well as museums as educational resources. I look forward to developing such connections in my own area when I get home. I tried not to gawk during my first trip to the city, but it was not easy to wipe the stupid grin off my face.
Saturday afternoon we collected field data from the nearby canal area. The hard work was tempered by the canoe trip and picnic afterwards. Who said you can't combine work with play ...
A holiday for campus, but not for us. We're pushing on. Today we discussed tools and techniques for microbiology labs. Our first major inquiry project was assigned and broadly discussed. We have a variety of outcomes to select from, and our group decided to investigate the antibiotic effects of assorted spices. We have to decide what to use and how to use it.
Wish we'd had time to research potential spices to test before beginning. Would be nice to have more mobility... I miss my car!!!!!!
This morning we had a brief discussion with Rush Holt, Senator from New Jersey. I wasn't sure how relevant he would be, but it ended up that we had serious issues, both local and global which he, as a former plasma physicist from Princeton, was not only concerned with, but knowledgeable about. But more impressive than either of these accomplishments is the fact that he was a five-time Jeopardy winner!
Another field study this afternoon. We met with Dr. Sherwood Hall from the Food and Drug Administration in Washington. He drove down from DC to study phytoplankton with us in Mercer County Lake. In addition to providing insight into on-going studies in which schools could participate, he also demonstrated new tools and new uses for old tools. Considering the temperature was over 100 degrees, the day was well-spent working along the shore. Some brave souls actually ventured into the sun and onto the water to collect samples.
More micro techniques this morning. The emphasis of our study seems lopsided, favoring microorganisms, until I look at the cladogram of the three domans. The majority of the evolutionary pattern is composed of the Bacteria and Archae. And frankly, many of us had limited exposure in our college classes, and those few classes are in the distant (in some cases VERY distant) past. I've enjoyed the chance to practice some of the techniques which are not frequently used in our classroom.
Dr. Catley is with us again. We looked at some of the insect specimens sharing our environment last night, and today we watched as he demonstrated his technique for collecting specimens from leaf litter. The materials were then taken back to the lab for analysis of species diversity. Visual tallies were made and these were correlated to calculate a Simpson's diversity index. The weakness for me is recognizing the various species of mites, etc. I was surprised to hear that the majority of top soil is made of springtail waste until I saw the large numbers we had collected. Dr. Catley also demonstrated his technique for making spiderwebs more visible. He puts several knee-high panty hose together and fills them with cornstarch. This is then sifted over the web so it is easier to see. The supply list for next year now includes Berlese funnels and sweep nets.
Another field trip today. A charter bus picked us up after breakfast and headed for the Bronx. Half of our day will spent spent at the zoo. There is a new $45 million highly-publicized gorilla habitat which was very popular with the visitors. Such faces on those animals. Would have been easy to spend more time just watching them but we were on a schedule. The afternoon found us in the Botanical Garden. It was a pleasant, relaxed change after the crush at the zoo. Could have definitely spent more time there. The plant specimens were glorious ... I just wish they were in my flower bed at home!
July 9, 13
Drs. Gorrell and Levandowsky were with us for additional work in microbiology. We were given known and unknown bacterial samples to innoculate onto a variety of media. After incubation, we will complete our tests and try to determine which bacteria was our unknown. What's striking is the amount of prep time it took to set up this lab. Ginny Eulo, our lab preparator, is a master of efficiency and organization. I'm completely in awe. She kindly shared some tips on the preparation of specific media. We also swabbed and cultured bacteria from our throats, noses, and other orifices (which thank goodness were optional).
July 14, 15
Back to NYC for part two at the American Museum of Natural History. Today the emphasis was on epidemiology. Dr. Kulasekera gave a brief overview and led us through the Epidemic! display. We were joined by reps from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. The following day they discussed the current state of epidemiologic research and classroom techniques for inquiry-lessons in this area. Resources for teachers were also explained.
We were in the presence of true greatness today. Dr. Bruce Alberts, head of the National Academies of Science, gave a short explanation of the state of science education and proceeded to solicit feedback from us ... as the "soldiers in the trenches" ... about correlating instruction with assessment (inquiry methods vs. standardized testing), recruiting new teachers from the pool of unemployed research Ph.D.'s, and discussing text-driven curricula. Then he kindly autographed a copy of his text on Cell Biology, personalized for each of us. A man of vision ... and stamina.
Our last content day. Dr. Varuni Kulasekera from AMNH was here. We extracted DNA from bug samples and ran PCS's using gel electrophoresis equipment. This will be a great activity for the AP Bio students.
At last I see the end in sight. Wednesday we give our presentations and say adios in a final banquet. It's been a grueling experience. Many 12 hour days, six day weeks, and much new information in a short time. I feel very tired and need to get home. But, it's been a great opportunity for a small-town teacher. There are themes and technologies which I will take back to Navasota to share with my peers there.
And I'll always be proud to say that for the summer of 1999 ... I was a Woodie ...
Back to Biodiversity: The Spice of Life
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