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Tech Camp Goes to NIH Conference in Washington

NH CREATES

The Tech Camp team enjoyed a whirlwind trip to Washington, DC, in early June 2022 where they attended the NIH SciEd 2022 Annual Conference. This was a great opportunity to meet and learn from other Science Education Partnership Award recipients and share information on the NH CREATES initiative at UNH and the great work being done to build a skilled workforce focused on regenerative medicine and biofabrication.

Learning to Regrow Lost Body Parts

NIH Grant Funds Cutting-edge Programs in Regenerative Medicine at UNH Tech Camp

Tech Camp

This summer, middle and high school students attending UNH Tech Camp will have the unique opportunity to learn about regrowing lost body parts, freezing and storing cells, 3D bioprinting and molecular visualization – cutting-edge topics you aren’t likely to find at many other summer STEM programs.

Thanks to a five-year, $1.2 million grant awarded to UNH Tech Camp by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (through its Science Education Partnership Award program), the popular summer youth program has expanded its already eclectic curriculum to include these and other subjects related to regenerative medicine and biofabrication. The new programs are being offered at no cost to participants and students of all STEM skill levels are welcome to attend.

NH CREATES

“The goal is to educate middle and high school students and teachers about regenerative medicine and biofabrication  and raise awareness around career opportunities that exist in these emerging industries,” says Carmela Amato-Wierda, associate professor of materials science and faculty director of Tech Camp. “The intention is to cultivate excitement and expertise that will help address future workforce needs in New Hampshire.”

The new week-long programs are part of a broader initiative called NH CREATES the Future: the NH Collaborative for Regenerative Medicine Education and Training for Engineers and Scientists of the Future, which is intended to build a skilled workforce for New Hampshire’s rapidly growing regenerative medicine and biotech industries. A related professional development program for middle and high school teachers is also being offered this July. 

Central to the mission of NH CREATES is establishing a learning ecosystem to facilitate cross-sector collaboration among middle and high schools, New Hampshire colleges and universities and industry partners. This ecosystem will continue to grow and evolve over time to meet the state’s ever-changing workforce needs, Amato-Wierda adds. The initiative is also in alignment with UNH’s strategic priority to partner and collaborate with New Hampshire businesses and better support the state’s overall economy. 

Several programs focused on regenerative medicine and biofabrication were introduced last summer when Tech Camp was held largely online or offsite due to the pandemic. As part of this effort, Krisztina Varga, associate professor of molecular, cellular and biomedical sciences, led an in-person project at Dover High School focused on cryopreservation, a means of freezing cells and tissues for future usage.

“Our approach was to bring very complex concepts to life through a variety of hands-on experiments and demonstrations,” says Varga, noting that most of the participants had very little knowledge of cryopreservation and its applications prior to attending. “It was a very collaborative environment with students working side-by-side with teachers in the lab, actively engaged in the learning process. By the end of the week, I think everybody felt energized by the experience and excited to learn more."

Founded in 2007, Tech Camp offers students in grades 5-12 the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of hands-on activities focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The summer program covers an array of subject areas through a project-based curriculum that emphasizes collaboration and creative thinking. All levels of experience are welcome. 

This summer, Tech Camp will run programs during the weeks of July 11-15, July 18-22 and July 25-29, all with day and residential options. Need-based scholarships are also available for programs that require tuition. Applications now being accepted. For more information, contact Tech Camp director Carmela Amato-Wierda, at ccaw@unh.edu.

Farmington Students Explore Possible Role of Spinach in Regenerating Human Heart Tissue

NH CREATES

Students in Shannon McCracken-Barber’s Introduction to STEAM class at Farmington Senior High School engaged in a unique project this fall that simulates groundbreaking research focused on the use of spinach leave in regenerating human heart tissue. The class, which includes a cross-section of students from grades 9-12 and all levels of science experience, embraced the challenge with great enthusiasm.

McCracken-Barber calls the spinach project “Vascular Vexation” and modeled it on research she herself studied this past summer at the UNH Tech for Teachers Institute, a professional development program for middle and high school instructors focused on building knowledge in both emerging technologies and project-based learning. This past summer’s program was focused on regenerative medicine and biofabrication, industries that are rapidly growing in New Hampshire and beyond. 

NH CREATES

Taking place over a number of weeks, McCracken-Barber says her spinach project involves the decellularization of spinach leaves, which transforms them into a veiny framework similar to the natural circulatory system found in humans, one that is ideal for supplying oxygen and nutrients to heart cells. The leaves will then be symbolically recellularized with engineered E. coli that has been colored with a plasmid to demonstrate that new types of cells can be regrown on the spinach framework. This process mimics what would be done in a professional lab. 

 “This is cutting-edge science that I’m tailoring to fit my class,” says McCracken-Barber.  “In the end, the experiments may not be 100 percent successful, but learning to keep a growth mindset and learning from our failures is of huge importance. Just by being actively involved in the process, my students are learning about new areas of science that they can potentially study and job opportunities that they never even knew existed.” 

NH CREATES

This line of thinking is in perfect alignment with a new workforce development initiative based at UNH focused on cultivating interest and expertise in regenerative medicine and biotechnology and improving overall STEM literacy among middle and high school students. This initiative, called NH CREATES the Future: the NH Collaborative for Regenerative Medicine Education and Training for Engineers and Scientists of the Future, is funded by a $1.2 million grant awarded to UNH Tech Camp by the National Institutes of Health through its Science Education Partnership Award program.