Virginia Western Community College is one of 15 institutions in the United States to become part of the 10th cohort to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Science Education Alliance – Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science project (SEA-PHAGES).

The project is intended to spark an interest in science among students by teaching them to creatively and critically use the scientific method to address real-world issues.

Thus far, 142 colleges and universities, including Carnegie Mellon, James Madison University, Virginia Tech and Johns Hopkins University, have participated in SEA-PHAGES. Virginia Western is the only community college in Virginia that has been selected to participate. Training for Virginia Western faculty begins this summer and the project will be available to students as part of a two-semester course of study starting Fall Semester 2017.

“This is an exciting opportunity for students at Virginia Western to be introduced to the scientific method while significantly contributing and connecting to the larger scientific community,” says Amy White, Dean of STEM. “Our aim, along with HHMI’s mission, is to contribute to the scientific body of knowledge and inspire future scientists.”

Open enrollment for Virginia Western’s Fall Semester will begin on June 21; returning students may enroll now. To learn more about course offerings and enroll, visit: www.virginiawestern.edu or call 1-855-874-6690.

The SEA-PHAGES program at Virginia Western will be incorporated into an Introductory Biology (BIO-101) course in Fall Semester 2017 and continues into Spring Semester 2018 in Cell Biology. Students will begin by isolating novel bacteriophage viruses from local soil. They will then use various microbiological technologies to characterize the bacteriophage as well as isolate and sequence the viral DNA. The continuation of the program into Cell Biology shows students how to annotate the vial genome and learn about bioinformatics. After Spring Semester, a faculty member and student representatives will present their findings at the SEA Symposium, a scientific conference hosted by HHMI. Last year the symposium had more than 3,400 students from 84 different colleges and universities participate.

Students who complete the SEA-PHAGES program acquire many skills currently utilized in the scientific community. Students learn to maintain proper laboratory notebooks, perform many standard laboratory techniques such as polymerase chain reaction and gel electrophoresis, and employ software used for genome annotation and bioinformatics analysis.  Additionally, students gain meaningful research experience early in their academic career, which connects them to the larger scientific community and instills a true sense of discovery.

Research has shown that students introduced early to meaningful research work are inspired to continue their education and scientific careers. Whereas, students introduced to meaningful research later in their careers see the work as validating to their choice and look to their peers ahead of them for inspiration.  Early-exposure to active participation in authentic research is contributing significantly to science and shaping career choices.

For more information about the HHMI and SEA-PHAGES, visit: https://www.hhmi.org/news/science-education-alliance-begins-its-tenth-year.