Multipotent or pluripotent? What happens when you mix stem cell researchers with grade 12 biology students?

We know stem cell research is rapidly advancing and depends on the next generation of researchers—enter today’s grade 12 biology students who could be tomorrow’s researchers and practitioners.

How can we prepare students for this challenging field, its medical and practical ethical considerations and more importantly “turn on” their interest in asking the next questions? StemCellTalks, a science outreach collaboration between Let’s Talk Science and the Stem Cell Network at MaRs Collaboration Centre on March 12, 2010 did just that.

When the day began few of the grade 12 students really understood the magnitude of having Jim Till and Janet Rossant sit in front of them having a “fireside chat” about how they decided to pursue science studies, unassuming role models for sure. It took off from there, a potent mix of 130 students at tables with graduate student volunteers leading discussions inspired by phenomenal stem cell researchers and leaders.

The engaging symposium created by the graduate student development team of Paul Cassar, David Grant and Angela McDonald, consisted of presentations followed by case studies and then questions and knowledge-sharing. It hit the mark and fostered open dialogue about complex questions like: Do you support private or public umbilical cord banks and why? Students lined-up at the mikes and had stunning questions for the researchers.

What did the kids take away? They said it widened their perspective; it helped separate hype from the truth. And, they said stem cell research is fresh, it’s happening now and that’s inspiring. Takeaway messages included: keep your options and your mind open, science is researching the unknown.

This event engaged these teens in something relevant for their futures and advanced an understanding of science and its interactions with technology, society and environmental issues. Now StemCellTalks will travel next to Vancouver, Halifax, Edmonton, Ottawa and Montreal.