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September 27, 2013 - Dr. Audia Launches Interactive Biology Program at St. Luke’s
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Dr. Jonathon Audia (right), assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the USA College of Medicine, works with ninth-grade biology students at St. Luke's Episcopal School in Mobile.

Dr. Jonathon Audia, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, led a pilot program giving ninth-grade biology students at St. Luke’s Episcopal School an opportunity to interact with medical professionals in a laboratory setting.

Dr. Audia worked with Angela Dixon, an educator of science at St. Luke’s, and Margaret VanLoock, a parent volunteer, to create a series of lab exercises to help reinforce basic concepts in biology using a hands-on approach.

“I was immediately interested in the prospect of getting involved in the community and saw the potential to involve our Ph.D. candidate graduate students in the basic medical sciences program,” said Dr. Audia.

In an ever-evolving medical field, the training processes must continuously adapt to provide optimal preparation for USA’s doctoral candidates. “It is critical that we integrate their medical research with opportunities to develop and deliver content to students as part of their formal training,” said Dr. Audia. “This seemed like the perfect chance to put together a pilot test of the idea.”

The team from USA included Dr. Audia and three graduate students, Jared McLendon, Leslie Hargett, and Peter Favreau. The graduate students also reviewed the students’ laboratory reports and gave feedback on ways to improve accuracy.

“Together we worked along with Dixon to develop a laboratory in which her ninth-grade biology class tested various household disinfectants for their ability to kill common bacteria such as E. coli,” said Dr. Audia. “Using harmless microbes that are simple to grow and manipulate to teach students basic principles of how cells work and react to their environment seemed like a no-brainer to a microbiologist,” he said.

According to Dixon, the interactive outreach program notably enhances the biology program offered at St. Luke’s. “This experience provides our high school students with the opportunity to take part in lab experiences that I could not give them on my own,” said Dixon. “My students were able to work with professionals, giving them a greater understanding of the research behind the science and an appreciation for the scientists too.”

“If successful, this venture may provide a pathway to developing a formal course that affords our Ph.D. candidates the opportunity to develop their own lectures and start engaging high school and undergraduate students as a part of their training,” Dr. Audia said.

To view more photos from the program, click here.

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