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NABT 2023 Professional Development Conference

GEP Staff Member Katie Sandlin attended the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) 2023 Professional Development Conference November 2-5 in Baltimore, MD. 
Katie posing in front of her GEP poster at NABT 2023

Democratizing Student Access to Help: the nationwide, virtual peer mentoring network of the Genomics Education Partnership

Katie M. Sandlin, Wilson Leung, D’Andrew Harrington, David Lopatto, S. Catherine Silver Key, Melanie Van Stry, Jamie Siders, & Laura K. Reed


  • The Genomics Education Partnership (GEP) is a nationwide faculty-driven collaboration of 250+ members working to ensure all undergraduates, regardless of their background & available resources, can participate in genomics research via Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs).
  • Since projects are accessible through the internet, no local research infrastructure is needed to participate in the GEP; thus, GEP is a cost-effective way for faculty & institutions to provide opportunities for students to participate in genomics research.
  • In the GEP computer-based CURE, students experience “hands-on” how to use web-based genome browsers, bioinformatics tools, & databases to investigate eukaryotic genes & genomes based on empirical (e.g., RNA-Seq data) & computational (e.g., gene predictions, sequence alignments) evidence.


GEP’s Virtual Teaching Assistants (TAs)/peer mentors are a centralized core group of students that can provide real-time support via Zoom to all GEP students seven days a week.

US Map showing location of GEP Institutions
Institutions with GEP Students

To assist GEP members and students during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GEP recruited a group of students who had previously completed a GEP course and mentored them while they served as Virtual TAs.

Google Calendar showing a weekly TA schedule example
Weekly TA Schedule

The Virtual TAs are available during evenings and weekends to accommodate students with family or work commitments.

Student responses to propositions about the Virtual Teaching Assistants. Items were evaluated on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). N = 137. Item Mean Median I felt comfortable asking the virtual TA questions 4.3 5 I felt more comfortable asking the virtual TA questions than my instructor 3.65 4 The virtual TA was knowledgeable about the GEP content material 4.3 4 The virtual GEP TA provided clear and understandable explanations 4.25 4 A virtual TA was available and responsive when I needed help 4.3 4 The virtual TA enabled me to successfully complete my GEP project 4.23 4 I would recommend other students completing GEP projects to utilize the virtual TAs 4.38 5 The virtual TAs are an important part of the GEP program and should be continued 4.43 5 I think all courses (and students) would benefit from having a nationwide set of virtual TAs associated with them 4.4 5
Lopatto, D. et al. Supporting the democratization of science during a pandemic: genomics Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) as an effective remote learning strategy. J. Microbiol. Biol. Educ. e00039-23 (2023) doi:10.1128/jmbe.00039-23.


Genome Browser image with evidence tracks labeled
Drosophila yakuba GEP UCSC Genome Browser

Gene annotation is the process of indicating the location, structure, & identity of genes in a genome.

Students must evaluate the available evidence, create the best gene model, & defend their conclusions.


Our data suggests that online delivery of the novel Virtual TA program allowed the GEP CURE to remain effective through the transition from onsite to online: the GEP CURE is resilient. This resilience aids in the democratization of science education by making research experiences available to all.

We encourage all faculty to consider implementing a Virtual TA program to provide additional support for students and to facilitate peer mentoring.  

This poster is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation (1915544) & National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health (R25GM130517) to LKR.


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