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Reaching Out to the Next Generation of Scientists is Sheer Genius

Dr. Ania Wieczorek’s love for molecular ecology and biotechnology is clearly evident in the way she serves the community. She may even tell you it’s part her DNA.  She has led the UH Biotechnology Outreach Program since it began in 2002, sharing her expertise in numerous venues across the state, on the Mainland, and in Taiwan.

She saw a need in the community for greater awareness and appreciation for genetics, and filled it. Dr. Wieczorek felt more individuals, both adults and children, could make sound decisions about biotechnology issues if they were informed about scientific facts. That desire led to her launch of a new field trip program for elementary school students seven years ago called “Gene-ius Day.” Dr. Wieczorek’s goal is to use DNA to inspire students.

“Our goal of the popular, year-long series is to make science fun, approachable, and practical,” Dr. Wieczorek said. To date, more than 5,000 young students have participated in hands-on activities on topics such as human and plant genetic traits, forensic science, agriculture and DNA research.  The students can always count on conducting a new experiment in a laboratory, and to learn something new.

“It’s exciting to see so many children eager to learn about biotechnology at such a young age,” Dr. Wieczorek said. “We are providing them with valuable, hands-on experiences that will prepare them for more advanced learning.”

The Gene-ius Day became so popular that Dr. Wieczorek started another program called “Saturday Gene-ius” about two years ago.  Each Saturday Gene-ius class has about 24 students and their parents come to the UH-Manoa campus for two hours of exciting, thought-provoking activities. The classes are also held at Kauai Community College.

Dr. Wieczorek added that in the near future, the Saturday Gene-ius program will be expanded to middle school students, which will greatly expand the reach of this outreach program.

The Saturday Gene-ius classes fill up quickly.  For more information about Dr. Wieczorek’s program or to register, visit: www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/geneius-day/index.html.