EDUCATION: Science bus gives students glimpse of biotechnology

Feb. 19, 2013 @ 06:07 PM

Lee County High School students got a quick education in using advanced scientific tools Tuesday when the DESTINY Science Bus came to campus and offered three classes a close-up look at biotechnology.

The bus, which travels around the state to rural counties that don't have the funds or student access to hi-tech equipment that more metropolitan counties do, has been stopping in Lee County off and on since 2000.

Jalynn McDonald, the Lee County High School biology teacher who has spearheaded the local end of the program since the beginning, said that it costs $250, so the school can't afford to bring the bus every year. But this year, she said, there was a grant that brought it here for free. And she was overjoyed to be able to bring her three college prep biology classes, which are filled with at-risk students from ninth to 12th grades, to the demonstration.

"This is really cool," she said. "I love it."

That sentiment was shared by her students, as well — whether they liked science or not.

Sophomore Brandon Sherman said he wants to go into crime scene investigation when he gets out of school, so this demonstration — in which students experimented with various samples to find out which one contained the DNA strain that causes Sickle Cell Anemia — was right up his alley.

"It's pretty cool," he said. "I've never done anything like this before."

Sherman, who said science is one of his favorite subjects, also said that he liked using the pipettes, petri dishes and electrical equipment on the bus and now has more knowledge about the career than just what he sees on television shows like NCIS or CSI.

Senior Ricky Jaimes, on the other hand, said science isn't exactly his favorite subject, but that he likes using the equipment as well as the challenge of keeping up with the various steps and instructions.

"It's interesting — not so much what's going on, but all the things you've got to pay attention to ... ," he said, watching a fog settle over his samples as an electrical current passed through them. "This class is kind of required for me, but stuff like this is keeping it interesting."

McDonald had said earlier in the day that such reactions were exactly why she goes through the effort of taking a special class each summer to bring the bus, which is sponsored by the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, as well as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. And, she said, she appreciates that, if nothing else, the bus will introduce students to careers they might not thought of before, from work in law enforcement to disease research labs and more.

The law enforcement opportunities are the most likely ones for local students to look into, she said, because Central Carolina Community College offers a two-year program to let students become crime scene investigators, which she said pays an average starting salary of nearly $40,000 — and more if the student goes on to earn a four-year degree or even a master's.

"There's no telling how much money or potential there is," she said.