Event shares science with students

by Mark Baumgarten

Seven high school students surrounded a table covered with eggs and dishes on Wednesday morning. But unlike the patrons of a local restaurant, these students were not preparing to dig into a hearty breakfast.
The eggs were raw, the dishes contained chemicals and the students’ goal was embryonic blood collection.
This was just one of the labs offered to more than 300 high school sophomores and juniors attending the College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences’ program, “Global Event ’99.”
“I thought we were just going to do experiments like we do in high school,” said Michael Stankiewicz, a Proctor High School sophomore in the embryonic blood collection lab. “I wasn’t expecting anything this big.”
The event, which took place on the St. Paul campus, transported students from their high school classrooms to state-of-the-art University labs. By participating in labs, ranging from wood and paper biotechnology to cell and gene therapy, students were given the opportunity to take what they read in their textbooks and apply it in a university research setting.
“It’s really fun,” said Abel Ponce de Leon, head of the Department of Animal Science and instructor of the embryonic blood collection lab. “This group is already up and running. I wish they could stay awhile and help out here at the lab.”
Professors from eight colleges at the University, serving as lecturers and lab instructors to the mass of students, shared both their knowledge of biotechnology and practical educational advice with the high school students.
“I believe science is only good if you pass it on,” said Kay Faaberg, a professor of veterinary medicine. “The earlier you get to these students, the better the chances are that they will get involved.”
The professors were not the only ones concerned with influencing the visiting high school students.
Before they dispersed to their respective labs, the students were welcomed by University President Mark Yudof and College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences Interim Dean Philip Larsen.
Standing before a cluster of the best science students in the state, Yudof followed his usual round of pancake and hair-loss jokes with a promotion of the University directed toward the college-bound students.
“This is a great time to be at the University,” Yudof said. “The best science in the world is being done at agricultural institutions like ours.”
But some of the students were not enticed by the president’s persuasive speech.
“I didn’t like the way he talked about the University,” said Esko High School junior Katy Draeger. “If I don’t want to go, I won’t, and if I want to go, I will.”
Other participants had a different point of view.
One of the more than 50 high school teachers at the event, Ben Pederson believed that the University offered a service to both the students and the teachers.
“This gives the students a chance to see something different,” the Maple River teacher said, “and it freshens our approach to teaching this subject.”
“Global Event ’99” not only taught the students and teachers, but inspired some University professors.
“This is my favorite event of the year,” Larsen said. “It gives us a chance to see some of the best students in the state and, hopefully, attract them to the University.”