Seeing a student’s enthusiasm when they have a learning breakthrough is what University of San Diego chemistry professor Tammy Dwyer calls a “light bulb moment.”
The light bulbs were flashing at an April 15 workshop. “The students were manipulating DNA. They had to find out what drug was bound to DNA and what sequence the DNA was bound to,” Dwyer said of the computer-based exercise. “When the students got it right, they were giving each other high-fives. It was really inspiring.”
Part of that inspiration came from the fact that each of the 18 workshop students were from the Science Academy at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Chula Vista.
Dwyer hosted the chemistry workshop, part of a three-year program at USD to expose the students to college-level science education. Prior to the workshop the group attended Creative Collaborations, the annual USD event spotlighting undergraduate student research projects. That was the end of the day for twelve of the students, but six juniors stayed to attend a special lecture on DNA research by Stanford University chemistry professor Eric Kool, and to spend the night on campus. Current USD science students hosted the high schoolers for an overnight experience that provided a realistic exposure to college life.
The recent on-campus visit wasn’t a first for Mater Dei students. The growing connection between the two schools is part of a three-year partnership funded by the ALSAM Foundation, which supports projects to enhance Mater Dei students’ interest in science. This partnership provides the high school students with unparalleled access to USD faculty, resources and more.
“We’ve done field trips and workshops and our faculty has gone to the high school to present,” USD chemistry professor Peter Iovine said. “When they come here it gives the students hands-on experience in a college environment. Our main goal is to get them excited about the research so their interest in science is strengthened.”
The students have been exposed to different disciplines through faculty-led workshops with Michel Boudrias (Environmental Studies and Marine Science), Iovine (Chemistry/Biochemistry), and Mary Sue Lowery (Biology). Hugh Ellis (Biology) will lead the students on a field trip to the Tijuana Estuary next month. Furthermore, four juniors will attend USD for four weeks this summer to do research with professors in chemistry, marine science and biology.
Mariana Gomez, a Mater Dei senior, was among last week’s attendees. She will attend UCLA in the fall, but her exposure to USD’s science programs has aided her college preparation. “I’ve been interested in science since eighth grade. I changed schools specifically to pursue the Science Academy and to delve more into potential science careers. I’ve had a chance to work in the labs at UCSD and USD. They’ve been good experiences for me. It’s been really great to network with people and take advantage of what USD has to offer. I’m really grateful for everything USD has done for us.”
— Ryan T. Blystone