Berkowitz’s Camp DNA contributes to ECE success

Yi Ma, Gerry Berkowitz and Bill Davenport
Left to right: Postdoctoral fellow Yi Ma, Gerry Berkowitz and past Camp DNA participant Bill Davenport.

UConn’s Early College Experience (ECE) program gives high school students the opportunity to take higher-level courses and get a head start on their college education. Students register through UConn but receive instruction at their own local school with familiar teachers.

ECE courses cover a wide range of disciplines, including art, math, history, literature and agriculture. Three departments from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources offer ECE courses: Animal Science, Natural Resources and the Environment, and Plant Science and Landscape Architecture (PSLA). PSLA offers the most courses (7), covering fundamentals of horticulture, floral design and various agricultural technology courses.

For several years, PSLA has hosted visits from various ECE classes. The high school teachers bring 20 to 30 students, and they spend the day touring laboratory facilities and learning about current UConn research projects.

Gerry Berkowitz, Professor in Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, shows that he believes in the power of ECE when he says, “It’s a great outreach program. It’s a good thing for the students, for the college and the University. I’ve seen first hand how vital and exciting this program can be.”

How does the ECE course in Plant Science stay so successful? With the help of the National Science Foundation, Berkowitz has developed and implemented a program he calls “Camp DNA.” This is a 2-week, intensive course for aspiring biology or agriculture high school teachers from the Neag School or from the Agricultural Education Master’s Degree Program.

Camp DNA introduces these undergraduates to topics in biotechnology, such as molecular genetics and cloning, and gives them all the information and tools necessary to be able to teach the material to students as an ECE course.

“I set them up with all sorts of info and biological tools so that when they become high school teachers in Connecticut, they keep a connection with me,” says Berkowitz. “They’ll come and get materials from me to do activities and experiments with their kids that make molecular genetics an experience. Instead of just seeing a textbook about DNA, they’re actually doing stuff with DNA,” Berkowitz said.

Some of Berkowitz’s former students have already begun, or are on their way, to bringing ECE courses to high schools all over the state.

He explained, “Several of my former students from Camp DNA are teachers around Connecticut. One of them is currently requesting to do this course, and other teachers from Windham [High School] have already begun doing the biotech courses as ECE teachers.”

For more information, check out the National Science Foundation and article in UConn Today.

By Francesca Crivello