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The mission of the Honors College at East Carolina University is to
prepare tomorrow's leaders through the recruitment, engagement, and
retention of exceptionally talented students of character in a diverse
intellectual living-learning community and to challenge them to attain
high levels of academic achievement.
In a football field house full of chatter East Carolina University senior Meghan Lower gathers a group of high school students at local C.M. Eppes Middle School.
While the room traditionally houses football helmets and pads, each winter the room is transformed into work benches and design hubs as a pair of Pitt County robotics clubs revamps the space to build engineering marvels.
Lower, an EC Scholar member, knew her love for science education would lead her into undiscovered territories, but she never imagined that a simple internship would give her the chance to build robots and affect students across the globe.
Lower is a junior mentor for the Pitt Pirates Robotics Club – a group of nearly 40 high school students from across Pitt County that builds robots and competes against other teams both statewide and nationally. Lower currently serves as a marketing and safety mentor, but her passion for robotics began when she interned for the club, helping the team integrate Next Generation Science Standards into its robotics programs.
“I’m double majoring in science education and chemistry,” Lower said. “My brother, Matt, is a member of the club, and an opportunity arose where they needed help at the internship level. I have the utmost passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education and working with the robotics team has given me an outlet to share my love for science with others.”
One of Lower’s first tasks was revamping the club’s outreach program RoboxSumo. The program was developed in 2013 and introduces STEM concepts to students in a readily-scalable and reproducible environment. The program tasks students with building carboard robots that compete against one another in a one-on-one match in an attempt to push the other competitor’s robot out of bounds within a set time limit.
Pitt Pirates Robotics Club drive coach mentor Lucas Gresham (left) and South Central High School junior Victor Pagona discuss robot design possibilities at a club meeting.
The program offers students low barriers of entry to robotics building because of its cost, simple building components and adaptability.
As part of her internship, Lower introduced Next Generation Science Standards into the RoboxSumo program at the elementary, middle and high school grade levels. These content standards ensure that students participating in the program are building a cohesive understanding of science at a national level.
“We saw an opportunity to add more advanced work for our program participants,” Lower said. “RoboxSumo is a great program because you can always ramp up the difficulty depending on the age level. However, we wanted to advance the program, so we created lesson plans and a teacher manual so that participants receive the greatest level of science education that we can provide.”
The program has been a success at the local, state and national level, having been used in 24 North Carolina counties, multiple states and international locations as far away as Nicaragua and Turkey. The club recently connected with a team from Turkey that used the program to teach Syrian refugees that fled their country during its ongoing civil war.
“The team from Turkey reached out to us after seeing the RoboxSumo program online,” Lower said. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to collaborate with an international team and to reach students who are unable to attend a regular school.
“I’d never worked with any kind of international group before,” she said. “We were able to help students continue their education in a nontraditional school setting. I think that’s the great thing about RoboxSumo – you can practice these educational concepts anywhere as long as you can access one of the kits. I’m excited about the opportunities the refugees have to continue their education and learn about robotics. It just goes to show how dedicated science educators are. They’re still trying to make a difference even in the most extreme circumstances.”
Lead Pitt Pirates Robotics mentor Ann McClung, who also serves as ECU’s science coordinator at the College of Education’s Center for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education, said Lower has made an impact on the club’s students.
“Meghan has really been a great influence with the team,” McClung said. “Her passion for science education has really taken our program to the next level for documentation and validating a lot of our curriculum. Her expertise has been really beneficial to us.
A group of Pitt Pirates Robotics Club members draw designs for the club’s newest robot.
“There is a need for science educators,” she said. “We need students, like Meghan, to consider science education as a career choice. It’s beneficial and rewarding and really makes a difference. I know it’s allowed Meghan to share her love and passion for science.”
McClung added that Lower will have a lasting impact on the team and the way it approaches future program development.
“She’s changed the way we look at developing new innovations and curriculums within the program,” she said. “Meghan has a bug for science and she’s shared that with the team. When we have students and junior mentors like Meghan bring new excitement to the program, it lifts all of us up.”
Lower said that her advice to other students considering internships with programs a little outside of the their comfort zone was to go for it “without any hesitation.”
“This has been the greatest internship experience because I’ve helped students find their niche in science,” Lower said. “There’s a place for everyone. I’ve watched kids that you would never expect be bold and outgoing in this program. You don’t realize the impact a program has on students and the community until you’re part of it.”
The Pitt Pirates Robotics club is currently preparing for its 2019 season. This year’s theme is Destination: Deep Space. The team will be tasked with building a robot that carries cargo pods to a rocket ship on a planet with unpredictable terrain. The team will compete at district events with the goal of qualifying for April’s 2019 international World Championship event in Houston, Texas.
Learn more about the Pitt Pirate Robotics team and its 2019 season online.
The following blog post by #ECUHonors junior Hanna Kosnik was originally posted by the Life Science Teaching Resource Community (Kayla Palmer, 2018 Dec. 14). Hanna is a recipient of the 2018 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship (UGSRF) funded by the American Physiology Society (APS). She conducts research under Dr. Johanna Hannan in the Department of Physiology (Brody School of Medicine) and plans to pursue a career in medicine.
The summer of 2018, I worked under Dr. Johanna Hannan at Brody School of Medicine in order to study sex differences in bladder dysfunction and study the impact of obesity-induced bladder dysfunction. With one-third of Americans, aged 40 years or older, reporting to have some level of urinary incontinence, we know that bladder dysfunction is a common condition.1 Both males and females experience bladder dysfunction, but they can experience varying degrees of stress or urge incontinence, overactive bladder, and obstructed bladder. Overall, females experience greater urinary incontinence compared to males.1 Our other interest, obesity induced bladder dysfunction, is pertinent because an increased BMI correlates with a higher risk of urinary incontinence. The mechanism that obesity-induced bladder dysfunction occurs is poorly understood. Specifically, we looked at the urothelium, the inner lining of the bladder responsible for signaling, and the detrusor smooth muscle, which contracts the bladder to dispel urine. Our interest within these tissues were mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, responsible for creating ATP; mitochondria is a model indicator of cell health. To study the health of mitochondria, we measured mitochondrial respiration within mice urothelium and detrusor smooth muscle layers of the bladder. Different substrates were added to promote or inhibit certain pathways within oxidative phosphorylation so that differences in mitochondrial metabolism could be studied. We believe that impaired mitochondrial function is contributing to the decreased contraction and inflammation that leads to bladder dysfunction in obese men and women.
REALITIES OF RESEARCH
Working within a research lab is an experience you never forget. Life as a research scientist is different than what I had previously thought. It was not every day that I was running experiments; there were days where I read papers in order to understand and apply the results from the experiments. While we had originally believed that females would have decreased mitochondrial respiration because they had a higher prevalence of bladder dysfunction, the data obtained from an oxygraphy-2K (it measures oxygen within a chamber) showed that males actually had lower respiration. These results were found in the presence of a fatty acid which seems to impact male bladder metabolism. Though our hypothesis was proved wrong, our results are significant because they uncover novel information related to males having an impaired fatty acid metabolism.
The best part of working in a research lab was contributing to the field of science. Though our hypothesis was proved wrong, the data still had relevance to bladder dysfunction and how it impacts the population. Before our research, there was little to no information on bladder mitochondria in males and females. On the other hand, the worst part of research was when a machine would malfunction during the experiment. It not only compromised the results, but the tissue that was in it was also rendered compromised. Whenever this happened, there was always someone in the lab that I could ask for help. Also, this experience demonstrated that is it okay to ask for help – especially from people within the lab! They probably experienced the same problem and had their own tips and tricks to prevent it from happening again. Collaboration and discussion were encouraged in the lab; it is something I hope to continue to practice as I continue a career in science.
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Dr. Johanna Hannan’s Lab @Hannan_Lab
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Open to Centennial and Chancellor’s Fellows in good standing with the Honors College. Due January 31st! Contact Dr. Fraley for an application.