Our Community Outreach work in 2017 was focused on ways we as a team can open up a dialogue between members of the public and the scientific community. Within our own sphere of influence, we have seen a great need for improved and ongoing communication between community members, industry leaders, politicians, and researchers, especially on controversial topics such as genetically modified organisms and water quality in urban areas.
As a result, we’ve taken a multifaceted approach to involvement, understanding, and education in our local and not-so local community. One of the major ways we sought to achieve our goals was by holding events and programs that connected people with real world, tangible applications of genetic modification that affect them on a daily basis, or provide insight into the processes used in genetic modification.
iGEM for Donors
Early in March, our team had the opportunity to display our past and continuing work as the primary presenters at a gala style event for local leaders and donors to our college. Over 75 individuals, including area policymakers and officials were in attendance. As a part of understanding genetic engineering and the work the WLC-iGEM team does, attendees were invited to participate in short 30 minute lab activities that combined our past work with coral disease and propagation and our current work in water quality management.
Over 50 individuals chose to participate in these hands on lab activities where they were able to assist in coral pest and disease treatment, coral propagation, and water testing demonstrations on our coral propagation systems. This was an incredible opportunity for our team as the majority of attendees were between 55 and 85 years of age, allowing us to reach a demographic we don’t encounter on a regular basis.
Biotech Information Night
Biotech Info night was an event hosted by the team on our college campus to reach out to other students in STEM and non-STEM fields.
We presented some of the most common applications of Genetic Engineering that we benefit from on a daily basis, along with the basic methodology of genetically modifying an organism before talking about our current project.
This event culminated in an open discussion among attendees and the team on their concerns with, and the ethical implications of genetic engineering. This open conversation has greatly aided the team in understanding the concerns of our immediate college community!
Organization Outreach Day
In August, the WLC-iGEM team participated in our college’s organization outreach day, welcoming incoming freshmen and engaging with other student groups on campus for this afternoon event. At our booth, we were able to talk to incoming students about iGEM, genetic engineering, and bacteriophages as over 150 students mingled and interacted at this incredibly fun event!
GMO's at the Library
As part of our team’s work to engage the local community, we held an event titled “GMO’s: Let’s Talk about that” at the Wauwatosa Public Library.
This evening allowed us to discuss what we do as a research team and converse with concerned community members in an environment where they were comfortable speaking freely and asking difficult, pressing questions like; “How much influence do big agricultural companies have on scientific research?”, “What kind of regulations on GMO’s are there to protect consumers?” and “Do you believe it is ethical to genetically modify higher level organisms?”.
As a team, this was a great experience answering questions we don’t generally encounter and establishing meaningful connections with members of the public.
iGEM for High Schoolers
In October, our team was able to work with Shoreland Lutheran High school and Dr. Rob Balza of the WLC Biology Department to introduce nearly 60 high school students to iGEM, our project, and some of the different areas and tools used within the study of Biotechnology. Over the course of an hour, we were able to dive into different careers opportunities and areas of research such as biosynthesis, bioremediation, and medical research for individuals interested in genetic engineering or biotech. Students asked excellent questions about ethics, and what considerations must be taken into account when genetically engineering an organism, with one student asking several questions about the practicality and issues with genetically modifying the human germ line.
After our hour of presenting and Q&A with the students, they were given a tour of lab spaces at our college along with lab demonstrations in various fields ranging from human anatomy and microbiology to marine biology, by college faculty members and iGEM team advisors.
We greatly enjoyed engaging with this group of students, and we’re working to bring lab activities to their classrooms for a more hands-on approach to genetic engineering!
Young Women's Science Program
As a part of our ongoing relationship with the Young Women’s Science Program (YWSP) at WLC, we facilitated lab activities for 16 high school aged young women interested in studying, or pursuing a career in STEM. This was a tremendous occasion for our team to encourage young women to pursue their dreams and provide them an introduction to some of the tools they may use in their futures.
Throughout the year the 2017 WLC-Milwaukee iGEM team engaged with people throughout our local community and around the world (especially other iGEM teams) via our team Facebook page with a total of 90 followers (as of Oct. 31)!
We have been able to reach over 3500 people with our posts, helping spread the word about the activities of our team, and as an advertisement tool for Community Outreach events. Although this has been a great way for our team to communicate with the Public and other iGEM teams, in the future we are hoping to use our Facebook page as a way to regularly share fun facts about biotechnology and bioengineering. We hope this tactic will help members of our community learn more about bioengineering in a fun, approachable way and allow our team to share our work with a wider audience.
Community Survey and Education
In order to better evaluate the needs of various communities, we sent out a survey on water quality and testing via our team Facebook page. By surveying the public we hoped to gain valuable information on the current knowledge base of water safety and water testing in the community, to better understand whether there was a need for our project in the real world.
We received 47 responses to the majority of our questionnaire, with some questions only receiving 46 responses. While this sample size is too small to make any statistically validated claims, the responses did help us see a need and address it in our community. Overall, our sample consisted of individuals ranging from under 20 years of age, up to between 60 and 69 years of age with most individuals falling between 20 -29 years of age. Individuals sampled indicated varying degrees of education ranging from below, or currently enrolled in High school level education, up to post graduate level education, with the majority of respondents having some college level education.
The questions that were perhaps of greatest interest to us were questions 1, 2, 3 and 7.
Questions 7 give us initial confidence that members of the public are open to the idea of (and willing to use) a simple at home water test kit for detecting bacteria in their water supply. Although exact marketing strategies and implementation may vary, this provided the inertia to proceed with our work knowing there is a need and desire for our product in the community.
Questions 1, 2, and 3 when viewed together, imply that while people generally have a positive view of the quality of their water supply, they are unsure as to whether their water is regularly tested in any way. Click HERE to view responses.
This gave us reason to think; how can we help educate the public on water testing in their communities, so they can have a well-founded confidence in their municipal water source? Our solution: an informational pamphlet that provides ways individuals can find data on water testing and quality standards in their area.
View all survey responses in the image gallery below.