Although school ended more than a week ago, 16 teenage girls are in the labs of George Washington University’s campus in Ashburn learning about their DNA.
GWU’s camp Go Girl, which stands for Genomic Opportunities for Girls in Research Labs, is a four-day camp provided for rising sophomores, juniors and seniors in Loudoun County Public Schools. The camps focuses on providing a hands-on experience in molecular biology and genomics
“The whole goal of the camp is to get the girls introduced into research, science. These are fun simple experiments to give you a very broad look into the field of molecular biology,” Katie Lemming, pharmacy student at GWU and Shenandoah University said. “I know from my experience in high school it was kind of like, I didn’t know anything – sit here and figure it out on your own. The camp gives the girls a great opportunity to meet with a lot of great people from all different backgrounds and what they actually do every day.”
Now in its fourth year and sixth camp, Go Girl has more than 80 applications for this year’s camp, according to Dr. Nancy Skacel, professor of genetics and cellular molecular biology at GWU.
“The demand is there and the interest is there and the students are amazing,” she said.
The camp holds 16 students for four days. Any student who participates can only participate once, Skacel said.
“We wish it was longer, it’s so interesting. You don’t get to learn this type of thing in school,” Sofia Melo, 15, rising junior at Broad Run High School said. “You don’t really learn in-depth and you don’t really get to see it in your face what it is,” she said about how biology class in high school doesn’t offer as much of a hands-on experience as this camp does.
Melo said that in her high school classes students don’t get a lot of hands-on lab experience like they’ve experienced in the camp.
“Actually seeing it makes you understand it that much better,” she said. “… It makes me that much more interested in a science field.”
The camp has a variety of different professors from GWU and Shenandoah University, who partner together for their pharmacy program, along with pharmacy students who act as aids during the labs.
“It’s good for us because we’re learning to be mentors. They get to look at people within the same age range, they’re like ‘wow, they’re only five years older than me and they get to do all this fun stuff every day, maybe I want to do that,’” Lemming said.
Part of the experiments they work is with E. coli. They create “dazzling hues” where the proteins of the bacteria are painted with a fluorescent gel to show the inner workings of the cells. The experiment is used to explore gene expression and genetic modifications of organisms.
They even swab their cheeks to get their DNA and line the strands to compare to each other.
“It’s really good exposure to them early. A lot of them are rising juniors and seniors. When I graduated high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do. They get a lot of advice from us,” Puja Shah, pharmacy student at GWU and Shenandoah University said. “It gets rid of the stereotype from other people who say research is like this. They get a hands-on experience and they are able to make their own opinions about it.”
On the last day of the camp, the students learned about genes and genetic fingerprinting and how it relates to tasting bitterness. According to the experiment, some vegetables contain certain amounts of the bitter compound called phenylthiocarbamide and each person’s genetic make-up affects the way they taste the compound.
During their lunch breaks, students received lectures from women in the health sciences field, including pharmacists, physicians, nurses, physician assistants and physical therapists.
To learn more about Go Girl, visit gwumc.edu/healthsci/goGirl.
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