Professor Eileen Gregory Teaches Elementary Students the Joys of Science and College

April 18, 2011

Photo by Laura J. Cole

Professor of Biology Eileen Gregory helps an elementary school student extract DNA from a strawberry.

Professor of Biology Eileen Gregory recently taught DNA extraction to a group of students. Each student followed the scientific method: forming a hypothesis, carrying out an experiment and, finally, developing a conclusion.

Gregory’s students were going through the standard scientific process; however, these students weren’t majoring in biology—they weren’t even enrolled at Rollins. Instead, they were third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders from a local elementary school, learning how to extract DNA from bananas and strawberries.

The elementary students were in Gregory’s classroom as part of Pathways to College, a joint collaboration between Rollins College and Fern Creek Elementary. Under the direction of the Office of Community Engagement, Pathways to College began four years ago when Rollins endeavored to acclimate young students to the college setting, so they would realize that college is an attainable goal. During Pathways to College, students from local elementary and middle schools arrive at Rollins to visit faculty, explore the college and take part in various activities.

Having joined Pathways to College when it first made its way onto campus, Gregory is now a veteran of the program, responsible for coordinating faculty participation.

“Pathways is an excellent opportunity for Rollins students, faculty and staff to share their expertise and have a powerful impact on the lives of young children,” she said.

Gregory, who is passionate about science education and improving it at any level, believes the program provides young students the opportunity not only to see that college is attainable, but also to learn something in the process. She hopes the experience will inspire future scientists by showing them that science can be fun.

“Science is not just rote memorization,” she said. “It requires creativity, curiosity and the willingness to investigate new ideas. It is exciting to make new discoveries, whether it is the amount of DNA in a piece of fruit or a new drug to fight disease.”

Two of the Fern Creek students who participated were fifth-grader Mike Bosco and fourth-grader Alyssia Cortes. Both students had fun during Pathways to College, learning interesting facts, including that female zebra fish are larger than male zebra fish and that you can make pictures without a camera. Encouraged by their day at Rollins, both plan on going to college, where Bosco hopes to major in history and Cortes plans to go into either history or writing.

Rollins students paired up with the Fern Creek students to assist with the DNA extraction also benefited from the partnership. “They get a sense of the diversity that’s in this country,” said Gregory. “And they get excited about their field by watching the reactions of the young students.”

Although the Fern Creek Elementary students were on campus for only one day, Gregory hopes that in about seven or eight years, these students will be at Rollins. And, perhaps, they will then help the next generation of elementary students learn about the joys of DNA extraction.

By Ateesh Gupta (Class of 2013)

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