Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s DNA Learning Center (DNALC), the world’s first science center devoted entirely to public genetics education, is expanding its hands-on laboratory programs in the greater New York area with two new state-of-the-art teaching facilities.
The latest DNALC outshoots are at biotech company Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ Sleepy Hollow headquarters and the Brooklyn-based New York City College of Technology, also known as City Tech.
The DNALC’s approach to science education is a unique and proven combination of experiments, field trips, day camps, and teacher training designed to teach a diverse student population about DNA and the principles of genetics and disease risk. Its overall mission is to prepare the students and families to thrive in the genome age, equipping them with the proper technology and knowledge to understand the implications of new discoveries and make informed decisions about their own health and well-being.
“If you can have kids thinking more like a biologist, we can start training the new generations to better understand what we [scientists] do,” said David Micklos, DNALC Executive Director.
Regeneron DNALC’s 4,700-square-foot space includes two teaching labs for students and summer campers, and several lockers of equipment for experiments that can be brought to local classrooms. Strategically located in Westchester, this center will serve the Hudson Valley and is easily accessible to New Jersey and Connecticut.
Regeneron, a developer of medicines for people with serious diseases, sees great potential in the new initiative.
“We strongly believe that there is nothing more important to help solve the daunting issues we face today—such as climate change, global hunger, and incurable diseases—than inspiring and engaging great young scientists,” said George D. Yancopoulos, President and Chief Scientific Officer at Regeneron and a CSHL Trustee. “The Regeneron DNA Learning Center is one more step in that direction, and together with other efforts such as the Regeneron Science Talent Search, reflects our commitment to fostering the next generation of scientists.”
Over the last 30 years, CSHL has partnered with other institutions to spread the DNA Learning Center’s hands-on approach to science education throughout North America, Asia, and Europe. While that international expansion continues, recent efforts have been closer to home with the goal of providing students and teachers across all of New York’s five boroughs the opportunity to explore their own DNA.
Located just off the Brooklyn Bridge, the DNALC NYC at City Tech will be equipped to provide an annual program of field trips for about 15,000 students, summer camps for 1,000 pre-college students, undergraduate research programs for 500 City University of New York students, free training for 100 teachers, and weekend activities and events for 10,000 visitors.
The 17,500-square-foot facility will include six teaching labs, state-of-the-art equipment, computer classrooms, meeting rooms, and exhibits to support year-round activities. In addition to school teachers and students, DNALC NYC programming will appeal to adults interested in understanding genealogy and their family history.
A fundraising campaign is ongoing to increase the DNALC’s endowment and to provide scholarships for at least 50 percent of students attending programs during the school year. The new Brooklyn facility builds on the success of CSHL’s first foray into Manhattan, the 1,200-square-foot single-classroom in the John S. Roberts Educational Complex in East Harlem that opened in 2008.
Carrying on an important mission
When Micklos led CSHL’s development and public affairs efforts in 1982, he hatched the plan for a grassroots, hands-on DNA education campaign to be delivered to local schools from the back of a van.
“At the time… there was only one other training program for molecular genetics for high school teachers,” he said. “There was a huge need for teachers to be updated on the latest genetic technologies that had yet to be described in most high school textbooks.”
In 1988, the DNALC opened a permanent teaching facility on Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor village. The first center dedicated to CSHL’s educational outreach programs, this facility known as The Dolan DNA Learning Center has been visited by over 400,000 pre-college students. It also hosts anthropological exhibits, such as the current Ötzi the Iceman exhibit, showcasing the value of DNA analysis.
The Regeneron DNALC and DNALC NYC will deploy the innovative teaching methods and technologies developed by Micklos’ team of educators, with a new push to extend CSHL’s research and postgraduate education mission to the college, pre-college, and public levels. For Micklos, the expansion throughout the greater New York area is particularly gratifying.
“The centers in Brooklyn, Harlem and Westchester County allow us to take DNA education to many more students, especially students of color and students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said.