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Noble, Southern Tech Collaboration Heightens Students’ Experience

By Frank Hardin, Ph.D.
Youth Education Manager

Posted Sep. 3, 2018

When we started the youth education program at the Noble Research Institute in 2012, we were looking to find our place in the education arena. While we knew what we wanted to do, we still needed to nail down how we were going to do it. In speaking with people about our program, Fiona McAlister, Ph.D., and Janie Herriot's names were mentioned more than once.

Although I knew both Fiona and Janie in passing, I knew little about their history with Noble or Southern Tech's Biotechnology Academy, which Fiona started in 2006 and both operate today. Turned out both Fiona and Janie are former Noble scientists, former public school science teachers, and are now educators that have built a biotechnology program for high school juniors and seniors that serves as the model biotech program for other technology centers throughout Oklahoma.

Fiona and Janie were the perfect starting point for our program considering our mission is to teach middle school and high school students about science and agriculture and to inspire them to pursue careers in both. So I called them up, and we met one day after class to discuss how we can spark student's interests in science and agriculture. Suddenly, our path was clear. That hour-and-a-half meeting helped shape what our program is today and fostered a remarkable relationship between our organizations.

Chance Kay, Jose Fonseca, Ph.D. and Fiona McAlister, Ph.D. work in the molecular plant microbe laboratory.Chance Kay (foreground) works with mentor Jose Fonseca, Ph.D., postdoctoral fellow, (left) to conduct research in the molecular plant microbe laboratory led by Kiran Mysore, Ph.D., at the Noble Research Institute, in 2016. Kay is one of 105 students from Southern Tech’s Biotechnology Academy who have completed internships at Noble since 2009. The partnership between Biotechnology Academy, which was started in 2006 by Fiona McAlister, Ph.D., (right), and Noble Learning provides students with hands-on experiences that prepare them for science careers.

Classroom to Real-World

Today our programs work closely together and complement each other nicely. Since many of our lessons are aimed at middle school and early high school science classes, we are able to engage students early and promote the Biotech Academy as an opportunity for when they get a little older. Students who go on to attend the Academy intern at Noble during their senior year. This allows them to work alongside our scientists, exposing them to real-life science aimed at solving agricultural challenges. This also gives Noble laboratories a pool of well-trained, highly capable students to hire from when looking for summer help. Since 2009, 105 students have participated in 10-week internships here at Noble culminating in 10,000 internship hours. Students have also been hired to complete 17,000 hours of summer employment.

Since we started hosting the Oklahoma Envirothon competition, Fiona and Janie have helped us build the program by mentoring competitive teams. Each year, their teams have placed in the top three. They bring their students to Noble's campus for tours and workshops; they have served on our youth education curriculum writing team, which produces hands-on science lessons that serve as the foundation of the youth education program; and they help us host events like the Curriculum for Ag Science Education (CASE) Institute by generously allowing us to use their teaching laboratories.

A Partner in Education

Needless to say, since the beginning of Noble Learning's youth education program, Fiona, Janie and the Biotechnology Academy have been there for us and with us. It is and has been a wonderful relationship. We are grateful to have them and their program, and we value all that they do.

It has been six years since that first meeting, and I still remember Fiona saying, "I hope you have good running shoes because you will be running nonstop once educators start hearing about Noble's youth education program." I must say, several pairs later, she was right.

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