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Carolinas Regional Node Meeting April 22, 2022

Carolinas Regional Node Meeting

The Carolinas Regional Node Meeting was held virtually on Friday, April 22, 2022, 9:00am-12:15pm (ET). The meeting kicked off with brief welcome remarks by Jeff French, a Node member from North Greenville University, SC, who also introduced our keynote speaker. Nate Mortimer from Illinois State University, who leads the Parasitoid Wasps Project in the GEP, gave an inspiring talk on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Parasitoid Wasps of Drosophila.” We had a break between 9:50-10am to allow for preparation for students’ presentations. Right before diving on these, Marisol Santisteban from UNC at Pembroke, current Carolinas Node leader, gave a brief introduction to the GEP and acquainted attendees with the organization: membership, different modes of participation, and the projects that are currently pursued. 

Engaging presentations by five students from South Wesleyan University (Michelle Eller, advisor) and Appalachian State University (Clare Scott Chialvo, advisor) took us into the intricacies of their projects in the Insulin Signaling Pathways Project and in an emerging new project on detoxification genes, and the challenges of manual annotation of species closely related to D. melanogaster, such as D. immigrants. After a break from 11-11:15, the last hour of the day was a professional development event geared towards students. The “Careers in Genomics” panel hosted 5 experts from different Genomics fields, with different levels of education (not all PhDs), and not all from academia. All panelists were female and from diverse backgrounds. Four of the five panelists also work in North Carolina which shows our Carolinas students that there is a future for them in this field that’s also close to home. Sabrina Powell, Education Program Director of the Precision Medicine in Health Care in the Department of Genetics at UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine generously helped assemble this extraordinary array of experts and prepared a fictional but realistic scenario about a 3-year-old boy diagnosed with autism, who is referred to the UNC Genetics Clinic for further testing. The testing reveals two specific variants in Mateo’s exome, one which is known to cause a specific subtype of autism and another which is associated with a high risk of adult-onset dementia. There was a role for professionals at each of our panelists’ positions:

  • Kate Foreman, CGC, Genetic Counselor (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill);
  • Meghan Halley, PhD, MPH, Senior Research Scholar (Center for Biomedical Ethics, Stanford University);
  • Julie Horvath, PhD, Head of Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab (NC Museum of Natural Sciences) and Research Associate Professor, Biological and Biomedical Sciences (NC Central University);
  • Halina Krzystek, Bioinformaticist, Bioinformatics Data Services, Q-Squared Solutions; and
  • Janae Simons, Bioinformatics Software Developer (Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

The meeting was attended by 34  people, of which 8 were undergraduate students, and three Community College instructors, two if which had expressed interest in knowing more about GEP and had been invited to New Member Trainings.

Zoom Meeting Room screenshot of participants

What worked well for your event that might help others plan similar events?

Using the opportunity that came with the “online” format we were able to host an outstanding keynote speaker (our very own Nate Mortimer from Illinois State University) and panel of experts in different fields of genomics for our “Careers in Genomics” panel; many were in North Carolina, but we had a person from Stanford. It would not have been possible to assemble this array of experts if it had been an in-person event. I would recommend some “professional development” event for students, like the “Careers in Genomics” panel that we had. We hosted individuals in different fields, with different education degrees (not all PhDs), and not all from academia. I believe the students really found this session interesting and useful. Making a program and emailing it to all participants was a plus and we also emailed certificates to the student presenters which is a nice touch of appreciation.

What lessons were learned from challenges in the planning or execution of the event that might be helpful to others?

It is hard to come up with the “perfect” date. We considered weekday vs. weekend, all day vs. half a day, mid semester vs. late in the semester. We finally settled on a Friday because they tend to be lighter days for students, and only half a day (morning). We did it towards the end of the semester, so students would have made enough progress in their projects to present. Considering that Node meetings will be in-person in the future, I would recommend a weekend, maybe start on Friday evening with posters and maybe the keynote speaker and then talks on Saturday morning and some professional development event. Some people may choose to attend only one day but they won’t be a full day. Or maybe make it a whole day event on Saturday. Keeping some form of hybrid might be useful, especially for the keynote speaker or panels, because that allows inviting speakers that are not geographically close to the Node. 
As far as the execution, it is still hard to keep everyone engaged and have them turn on their cameras and ask questions. So as much as possible, I would recommend holding the student presentations in-person and if online, encourage folks to have their cameras on, and incentivize asking question with some form of reward. We provided a short bio of the panelist in the program that was emailed to the registrants the night before. If possible, do that earlier, so people may think of some questions to ask ahead, and openly ask them to try to do so.

Some students reported not receiving a link for the meeting, but they registered only minutes before the start of the meeting. If you plan to leave the registration open till the very start of the meeting, make sure someone in the Node does a last sweep. Ask the GEP staff to give access to registration to someone in the Node.

Keep the GEP staff in the loop for everything planning, they are incredible resourceful, helpful and efficient!

Expert Panel on Improving the Undergraduate Experience in STEM

Dr. Maria “Marisol” Santisteban, a GEP Member since 2012, recently participated in the STEM for All Multiplex’s “August Expert Panel: Improving the Undergraduate Experience.”

Programs across the country are interested in researching and understanding best practices to recruit, support, and retain underrepresented students in STEM and computing fields. This panel included four projects that provide students with exposure to career paths, research experiences, faculty mentoring, and other initiatives preparing them for graduate school and the STEM and computing workforce.

Carolinas New Member Training December 2020

“This could not have been more than what I needed” was the comment of Jeffrey French from North Greenville University in South Carolina on the last day of the workshop. Dr. French was one of nine trainees that completed the New Member Training Workshop of the Carolinas Regional Node and his comment could not have been more perfect to encapsulate the feeling that this was a successful workshop. Everyone walked away feeling empowered and with plans to implement. Who was everyone?

  • Dr. Eric Goff, Midlands Technical College
  • Dr. Jeffrey French, North Greenville University
  • Dr. Karen L. Baracskay, Tri-County Technical College
  • Dr. Kristen Delaney Nguyen, Fayetteville State University
  • Dr. Mara Robu, Furman University
  • Dr. Maria Fadri, Wake Technical Community College
  • Dr. Mark Dugo, Johnson C. Smith University
  • Dr. Robert K. Reid, Meredith College
  • Dr. Taek H. You, Campbell University

We were thrilled to have three of our trainees coming from community colleges, contributing to one of the goals of our IPERT grant. One of the institutions is a HBCU and another one an all-women’s college.

This was the inaugural event for the Carolinas Regional Node after the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the one we had planned for Spring 2020. We debated the dates and format and finally settled for the tried-and-true 15 hours over two weeks online training that Drs. Catherine Reinke and Jenny Mierisch perfected over the summer. They both were very helpful providing resources and advice, and Catherine met with us as we were in the planning stages and she also attended some of the training.

We had the privilege of having Dr. Laura Reed do the “Introduction to GEP” on the second day and Katie Sandlin gave the tour of the new GEP website that she and Wilson Leung developed on day seven. Katie also developed a terrific webpage for the training to keep everything organized and accessible at the click of a link. In the colors of the GEP, the training website had the same professional look of our new GEP website. Chinmay Rele created an awesome video for us to use for recruiting new members for the workshop.

The participants were really appreciative of the resources and support, and they bonded together. On our last day, Taek reflecting on the working days together, said: “do you realize that we were strangers just last week and now we are part of this group, supporting each other?” Mark shared a bioinformatics exercise he developed around SARS-CoV-2; we discussed having a symposium-like event next year at the end of the summer with our students; and Kristen also suggested a hackathon type of event for our students. Everyone was feeling energized and we, the trainers, were happy.

Our thanks go to everyone who helped with planning, developing, and executing. Laura, Katie, Wilson, Chinmay, Catherine, and Jenny. We could not have done it without you!

The Carolinas crew: Me (Marisol Santisteban), Indi Bose, Michelle Eller, Cathy Silver Key, Vida Mingo, Scott Tanner, and Catherine Ward.