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Johns Hopkins UniversityArts and Sciences Magazine

Putting a Value on Good Service

Hopkins doctoral candidate RosaLinda Miyares spends hours each week in a Carnegie Institution laboratory, studying how zebrafish metabolize lipids.

Equally fascinating to Miyares, however, is the time she spends teaching biology to students at Baltimore Talent Development High School, a Baltimore City public high school associated with the university's Center for Social Organization of Schools.

"We strive to make biology something that the students can see, touch, and manipulate," says Miyares, a researcher in the school's Cell, Molecular, Developmental Biology, and Biophysics (CMDB) program. "It is incredibly rewarding to watch those who thought science was boring discover that instead it can be fun and exciting."

Until recently, such personal satisfaction was the only reward for biology graduate students like Miyares who volunteer their time doing science-related community outreach.

Now they are eligible to earn a "Science Outreach Certificate" recognizing their work. The honor not only will appear on official transcripts, but the students will also be recognized formally during their graduation ceremonies.

"We have a large number of students who for years have been out there, helping share their enthusiasm for science with kids in elementary through high schools, and this is a way to recognize that and to encourage others to participate," says Steve Farber, a member of the training faculty for CMDB and an adjunct faculty member in the Biology Department. Farber runs BioEYES, a nonprofit organization that uses graduate students and faculty to bring science education to inner-city schools.

To earn the certificate, graduate students must donate 50 hours (within the course of their graduate studies) to a pre-approved activity. Some Hopkins students opt to volunteer through programs such as BioEYES, or MINDS (Mentoring to Inspire Diversity in Science). (The latter is the program through which Miyares volunteers at Talent Development High School.) Other options include tutoring or judging science fairs. The sky is the limit, according to Farber.

"We want to inspire them to be creative, and to come to us with new ideas," he says.

Beverly Wendland, chair of the Department of Biology, is very excited about the new service-learning certificate.

"We believe this new certificate is a way to acknowledge those graduate students who are already spending time, energy, and effort this way, to encourage even more students to take part in these activities, and to formalize our department's commitment to outreach and the pursuit of diversity," she says.

Service learning—and sharing—is now also being formally recognized in the school's Public Health Studies program, which has recently instituted a requirement that all under­graduates in the major spend 80 hours in a one-year period engaging in community-based projects related to their public health studies.

Currently, 70 percent of majors are already involved in outreach projects, so the requirement is simply a way to formalize that, according to Kelly Gebo, director of the program.

"The idea is for them to do something where they can put what they are learning in the classroom to work in the real world, and learn from it," says Gebo. "It's a way to give their classroom work meaning, and also to help others."

Faculty mentors will supervise each student's project, helping chart progress and giving valuable input and guidance. At each project's conclusion, students will either submit a paper outlining what they did and what they learned, or present their work to an audience.


photoThrough her volunteer work in Baltimore City Public Schools, doctoral researcher RosaLinda Miyares strives "to make biology something that the students can see, touch, and manipulate."
Photo: Will kirk/

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