Health Occupations Students of America affiliated high school students gathered on Nov. 11 at UT Health San Antonio for the annual Science Expo. The event is designed to give students a unique insight into health professions or research-based careers.
Student representatives from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, School of Medicine, School of Dentistry, School of Health Professions, and the School of Nursing featured a variety of interactive table displays where the high schools students could observe and participate in field-related demonstrations. Expo also featured lecture hall presentations covering various health profession topics.
This year, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences demonstrated DNA extraction where students were able to visualize the isolation of DNA from strawberries. Students were amazed to be able translate a text book representation of DNA to a tangible mass of gelatinous material. Other student-lead groups such as SACNAS and WISDOM eagerly participated by hosting interactive demonstration tables as well.
Science Expo, or Expo for short, is currently under the direction of Dr. Irene Chapa, the Director of the Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach and the Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy, however, she is no stranger to the event.
“The Science Expo was started by one of my professional mentors, Dr. Sylvia Fernandez; who was the then Director of the Office of Special Programs at [UT Health San Antonio], when I was a graduate student. I did not know many women in science back then, and she was a wonderful guide into the field. She believed in giving back to the community and in the importance of encouraging others to follow their dreams,” Chapa said. The expo originated in 1990, however the future of the expo wasn’t always so bright.
Chapa went on to explain, “When Dr. Fernandez retired, the expo stopped happening. After my postdoctoral fellowship, when I transitioned to the newly created Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach; I wanted to bring Expo back to our community. So, thanks to support from our administration and the incredible volunteerism of faculty, staff and students, Science Expo was reinstated in 2002.”
Although the expo brings in over a thousand students, at its inception it was simply a small Saturday morning event that would bring in a few hundred high school students. As the expo has grown, so has its reach where nearly 30 percent of the students in attendance are from high schools outside of San Antonio.
“It has become an annual event where thousands of students come to our campus and not only have conversations about the opportunities in the health professions, but also meet our administration, staff and students and learn about career options in the biomedical sciences though a variety of hands on activities, labs and interactive sessions,” Chapa said.
Even more amazing is the manifestation of the impact this event can have on a young student. Chapa proudly explained, “We are seeing students who came to the expo as high school students, now volunteering at the expo since they have become UT Health students or biomedical professionals themselves. Those are full circle moments where we can see the positive impact role modeling, encouragement and assistance in preparation for future careers truly makes a difference.”
Dr. Chapa along with the rest of the hard-working staff in the Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach are already planning for next year’s event. “Next year, we hope to have even more volunteers to be able to assign one “guide” to each group to facilitate their movement from session to session with ease.” She also hopes to be able to initiate a travel award program for schools who otherwise would not be able to participate.
If you would like to participate in Science Expo 2018, contact the Office of Recruitment and Science Outreach for more information.