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

Author(s): Katie M. Sandlin1, Wilson Leung2, D'Andrew Harrington3, David Lopatto4, S. Catherine Silver Key5, Melanie Van Stry6, Jamie Siders7, Laura Reed1

1. University of Alabama 2. Washington University in St. Louis 3. College of Southern Nevada 4. Grinnell College 5. North Carolina Central University 6. Lane College 7. Ohio Northern University

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Summary:
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…

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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.

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms

Version 1.0 - published on 28 Nov 2023 doi:10.25334/SQDZ-6T98 - cite this

Description

The Genomics Education Partnership (GEP; https://thegep.org) is a nationwide collaboration of 275+ members from 215+ institutions that integrates active learning into the undergraduate curriculum through Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) centered in bioinformatics and genomics. Genomics CUREs have many advantages — including freely-available datasets and tools, low laboratory costs, no lab safety issues, and flexible schedules. GEP research projects typically focus on a group of genes involved in a specific biological pathway (e.g., insulin signaling) or a genomic region with unusual characteristics (e.g., the Drosophila Muller F Element). The analysis regions for the GEP science projects are partitioned into smaller sub-projects, which enables faculty to teach a common set of scientific concepts and protocols that students can apply to their individual sub-projects. Because students often work in parallel on their own sub-projects, this structure also lends itself to peer instruction. The GEP is dedicated to ensuring that all undergraduates, regardless of their background and available resources, can participate in research. 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 Teaching Assistants (TAs) in 2020. A Virtual TA is available via Zoom seven days a week (approximately 72 hours each week) to provide students and faculty real-time support in any GEP activity or research project. The Virtual TAs are also available during evenings and weekends to accommodate students with family or work commitments. This peer mentoring network has continued to expand since its inception in 2020. We recruited new Virtual TAs from diverse backgrounds to facilitate interactions with students. We encourage all faculty to consider implementing a Virtual TA program to provide additional support for students and to facilitate peer mentoring. The Virtual TAs and the GEP are supported by NSF IUSE-1915544 and NIH IPERT-R25GM130517 to LKR.

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