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June 24, 2013 // By Karen Kreeger // Comments

Opening Science Career Doors Early On

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Kareema Dixon May 2013As a ninth grader at Northern Liberties’ Bodine High School for International Affairs, Kareema Dixon took part in the BioEYES program developed by Jamie Shuda, EdD, Director of Life Science Outreach at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IRM), Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. Little did she know that this one course would send her on an amazing educational path. And she only just finished tenth grade last month. BioEYES is a K-12 science education program that provides classroom-based learning using live zebrafish.

Dixon’s science teacher Maggie Pedone, who brought the BioEYES program to her ninth grade class, also encouraged Kareema to start entering area science fairs. Fittingly, Dixon chose for her first science fair a project based on zebrafish. Her project, “Does Oil Make You Boil: The Truth behind Oil Spills?” uses zebrafish to measure the phototoxicty of oil. She worked after school with Penn undergrad mentor Mounica Gummadi through the IRM’s Bridge to ReBIO program. Bridge to ReBIO is an after-school and weekend program where Penn STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) majors mentor local high school students in developing relevant, sound science fair projects.

How did she become interested in environmental science? From a school presentation on the Gulf oil spill during the BioEYES program. “It was really disturbing to see what happens to zebrafish embryos first-hand when exposed to oil,” says Dixon. “It’s really better to do science hands on.”

She ended up winning the George Washington Carver science fair, taking first place in her category of environmental science. She also won prizes from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Cobbs Creek Environmental Center for her project, and placed third place in the Delaware Valley Science Fair later that year in ninth grade.

Not willing to rest on her laurels, Dixon made this promise to herself and her mentors: “I’m doing this next year and will place first.”

Her participation also paid off in opportunities over last summer – she worked as a park manager at Cobbs Creek, where she presented her water quality testing skills many times.

In tenth grade, Dixon has been working with Albert JinHyung Ahn, another Penn undergrad mentor on what’s “Really Left Behind? An Experimental Study of Oil and Dispersant Toxicity,” another environmental study using zebra fish.

In March, Dixon took first place in her category of environmental science again at the Carver Science Fair. She also won the EPA prize again, as well as a Naval science prize.

Making good on her promise, she also placed first in the Del Val Fair in early April, for the environmental science category.

“She did it!” exclaimed Shuda.

Her work was also entered into the Stockholm Junior Water Prize, part of the Water Federation.  She wrote a paper about her research and is in competition for a trip to Oregon if she places first in Pennsylvania.

And just to keep things balanced, Dixon also participates in Students Run Philly Style, where she completed the Broad Street Run. She is also on the debate team, describing herself as “competitive,” she says with a grin. This summer, she will participate in the University of Delaware's Edge honors program, where she will live on campus and take college courses.

The adults in her life are full of praise for her achievements: Shuda says she only gives her a little mentoring and “then she is off and running. She is a true example of how with a little mentoring, students can do great research.”

Find out more about the IRM’s educational outreach opportunities.

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