A Student Mentorship Program Supported by the Pinkerton Foundation
We are pleased to offer the Urban Barcode Research Program (UBRP), science education initiative to engage high school students to study biodiversity in NYC using DNA technology. Students complete introductory workshops and then conduct independent, student-driven research projects using DNA barcoding under expert mentorship. The UBRP enables students to gain knowledge, confidence, and interest in science while studying the interaction between biodiversity and human activity.
Students are first required to take two mandatory courses:
Conservation genetics is the field that seeks to use DNA to study and protect the living world and its biodiversity. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the leading international conservation body, recognizes the crucial need to conserve genetic diversity as one of the three fundamental levels of biodiversity.
The main goal of this course is to introduce students to the different methods that conservation geneticists use to preserve biodiversity. This includes how DNA sequencing and fingerprinting techniques can be used to determine species distribution patterns, to identify products made from endangered animals, and to propagate endangered species in captivity. The students then learn how scientists and governments can use this information to allocate limited conservation dollars where they are most needed. By the end of the course, students will write grant proposals for their own conservation projects, which they will then present to the class.
Have you ever wanted to know more about the biological organisms that surround you? In this course, we will explore a cutting edge methodology that has helped scientists all over the world identify and study biodiversity: DNA Barcoding. This scientific methodology can be applied to explore and answer a great diversity of questions: Does the leather used to make this purse, belt, or wallet come from an endangered, illegally harvested species? Does the bug I found in my room cause health problems? Are the plants growing in my backyard native or invasive species? Students in this course will have the opportunity to participate in hands-on labs to learn the basics of DNA barcoding. They will also learn basic concepts in ecology, biodiversity, and conservation biology.
Of the students participating in these courses, 40 will have the opportunity to continue in the UBRP. Teams of two students will be paired with scientist mentors during the academic year. Mentors guide the students through all phases of the research process, beginning with project design and culminating in poster and oral presentations at a research symposium.
Once students are selected to continue in the program:
- Mentors and students define a work schedule to accomplish a minimum of 55 hours of research during the summer and academic year – and complete their project in time for presentation at a symposium in early spring.
- Mentors help students plan, develop and conclude a DNA barcoding project. Key components of the research cycle includes writing a research proposal, fieldwork and/or sample collection, DNA isolation, amplification of DNA barcoding regions, and analysis of DNA sequences.
- Project staff coordinate with teams and mentors to ensure that projects are rigorous and appropriately scaled to achieve results during the time allotted.
- Mentors receive a stipend of $2,000, and all costs associated with obtaining and sequencing specimens will be covered. Mentors also directly impact the science education and career trajectory of urban high school students.
Students who present their research at the Research Symposium each receive a $500 stipend.