MindFuel’s geekStarter program hosted a two-day intensive lab skills workshop at the University of Lethbridge last weekend. The workshop brought together Alberta geekStarter middle-school and high-school teams to practice lab techniques, further develop their synthetic biology projects and put design thinking practices into action with the support of their mentors and teachers.

“Through the geekStarter program, these middle-school and high-school students have the unique opportunity to do molecular and microbiology work in a university lab. University students do not normally do these types of lab activities until the second or third year of their biology degree.  Having this time in the lab really supports their projects and hopefully will lead them into a study of biology or general sciences,” said Brian Dempsey, University of Lethbridge instructor and synthetic biology team advisor.

Student learning to measure with a Pipette

The first day focused on standard lab protocols with bacterial cultures and DNA samples, individual project work in teams and an interactive presentation on designing a successful bioengineering project through design thinking by geekStarter mentor, Chris Isaac.

On the second day, the students continued their lab work from Saturday. The bacteria had taken in the DNA, as indicated by many groups of bacteria (or colonies) that had grown over night.  The results and insights gathered from this lab work greatly supported their projects and will direct their next steps in their project development. They also participated in two seminars on responsible bioengineering policies and practices and building a start-up from a bioengineering project by geekStarter mentors, David Lloyd and Emily Hicks, respectively.

“This workshop offered a unique and rich learning experience and our teams took full advantage of it,” says Magdalena Pop, Program Manager, geekStarter. “Students developed their skills and projects with the assistance, guidance and inspiration from geekStarter mentors and University of Lethbridge volunteers, which is extremely beneficial to their education and futures.”

After a weekend full of hands-on lab work, inspiring presentations and engaging team discussions with their mentors and teachers, the students returned to their schools with new understandings and skills, ready to continue on with the next steps of their project research and development.

“Our new team needed lab experience and got exactly that. It was great reinforcement of design thinking and human practices” shared one teacher in the anonymous survey feedback.  Another teacher shared “I enjoyed what was facilitated and think the students took away lots from the varied opportunities.”

And what did the students think?

“I think that going through the lab process step-by-step and getting the opportunity to ask questions was very beneficial for me” stated one student in the anonymous survey feedback, while another one shared “everything I have done here was very inspirational to me and was well worth the trip.”

At MindFuel, we are so curious to see how the teams continue to progress, and look forward to their project presentations at the year-end geekStarter Jamboree in June.

Keep up the great work geekStarter middle-school and high-school teams!