Grable Grant Will Fund BEST, PSC’s STEM Secondary Education Program

Aug. 1, 2016

High school teachers in southwest Pennsylvania will get training in advanced computing technologies in the biological sciences—bioinformatics—thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Grable Foundation to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC). The grant will fund PSC’s BEST (Bioinformatics Education for STudents) program, including a summer workshop for regional science teachers.

“The Grable Foundation is committed to helping young people succeed,” says D’Ann Swanson, Senior Program Officer at The Grable Foundation. “If school districts can expand their course offerings to include groundbreaking topics such as bioinformatics, it will give the region’s youth a real advantage when it comes to post-secondary learning and career options.”

Science is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary. Fields like biology traditionally did not make much use of computation. But biologists today are working more and more with computational scientists. Students can no longer pursue careers in fields like genetics, cell biology, population science, oncology and many other medically relevant fields without some background in bioinformatics. Lack of homegrown skills is sending these opportunities overseas. At the high school level, U.S. students get very limited exposure to these concepts.

“Our whole mindset needs to change with the goal in mind,” says Pallavi Ishwad, PSC’s Education Program Director. “Most of these students still think, ‘I’m studying biology,’ or ‘I’m studying computer science.’ But you need to think about combining these skillsets for a successful career in the 21st century.”

To address these issues, PSC in 2009 worked with a team of multidisciplinary high school teachers to develop BEST, an introductory high school level curriculum in bioinformatics. Ten Pittsburgh school districts now offer this curriculum to their high school students.

The Grable grant will fund a summer bioinformatics workshop for secondary science, math and technology teachers in participating districts. The program will prepare participants to teach a full-year curriculum in bioinformatics, or to incorporate the concepts in existing courses. All materials are provided free of charge to participants and their districts.

“This training is critical to equip single-subject teachers to address and teach multidisciplinary concepts in bioinformatics,” says Ishwad. “The workshop will fortify teachers with all the needed multidisciplinary content knowledge; it will also develop feedback and evaluation strategies as the lessons progress.”

Goals for this new funding for BEST will include increasing the number of schools offering the bioinformatics curriculum, training more teachers to teach such courses and increasing the number of students introduced to bioinformatics.