MdBio brings mobile lab to Texas

MdBio brings mobile lab to Texas

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The MdBio Foundation recently brought a hi-tech mobile laboratory to several Southeast Texas schools, teaching hurricane-impacted students about wildlife forensics, virtual reality and other STEM-related subjects by providing them with hands-on experience.

As part of MdBio’s “Learning Undefeated” program, MdBio Education Outreach Coordinator Desurae Matthews and Education Outreach Fellow Zahra Shihabuddin visited local campuses hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The mobile lab has traveled around Texas for the last year. Among others in Southeast Texas schools who have benefited from the specialized training, the MdBio crew visited students enrolled in the Woodrow Wilson Early College High School in Port Arthur and middle school students currently attending classes at the Vidor High School campus.

“The foundation was started to get students to start learning STEM at a young age,” Matthews said of the MdBio Foundation. “That’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. There are a lot of STEM jobs out there, and the opportunities are growing.”

Matthews is from Wharton, Texas, and knows firsthand the destruction Harvey wrought on all of Southeast Texas. She said she is proud to work for the foundation for all its doing to help educate affected students.

“The foundation is headquartered in Maryland but reached out to Texas after Hurricane Harvey to help provide laboratory access to students who don’t have it,” she shared. “We teach them about STEM in fun and interesting ways. We teach them forensics; we show them how to extract shark DNA from a sample. We teach them how to use the equipment, like the micropipettes used to accurately measure small amounts of liquid. We teach them a variety of things in the lab and in the classroom.”

The lessons are designed to engage students in STEM subjects. They have names like “The Case of the Broken Beaker” and “The Mystery of the Crooked Cell,” which immediately seem to catch the students’ attention, said Matthews.

The high school students in Port Arthur got to learn about gel electrophoresis and later were instructed in the use of Virtual Reality (VR) technology. Students strapped on VR goggles and took off on a trip to Mars. They looked up, down and all around, many grasping at 3-D images appearing within their view.

Matthews taught Vidor Middle School fifth graders onboard the lab during their fourth period science class how to measure and mix blue, red and yellow solutions to create a rainbow of colors.

“It was fun,” said student Ronny Bauer following the experiment. “We mixed colors. We learned about a micropipette and figured out how it works.”

“I really like science because if we didn’t have science we wouldn’t be where we are today,” student Logan Boyd remarked.

Science teacher Leah Carter said she was pleased to have MdBio at the school to encourage students’ interest in STEM.

“They are learning about the light spectrum and light energy, so this goes along with what they are being taught in class,” Carter observed. “The micropipette lesson teaches them about measuring in a lab. It’s a great idea.”

The MdBio Foundation

MdBio Foundation, Inc. has been providing innovative and effective bioscience education for middle and high school students since 1997, according to information from the group’s website. The nonprofit is dedicated to providing bioscience awareness, education, and workforce development in Maryland, Washington, DC, Texas, and beyond. The Foundation accomplishes this through a diverse set of programs including the flagship mobile laboratory programs, summer programs and game-based learning.

The Rebuild Texas Fund, a collaborative project of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the OneStar Foundation that was established to support the rebuilding efforts in communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey, awarded MdBio a $265,751 grant in August 2017. With this grant, MdBio Foundation raised more than $500,000 since October 2017, when it launched its “Learning Undefeated” initiative designed to provide science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education on its mobile laboratory to schools in southeast Texas that were damaged by the hurricane.

“Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas exactly a year ago, damaged nearly 300 schools and destroyed so many science labs and classrooms. With our mobile STEM lab, we saw a great opportunity to help students and teachers regain a sense of normalcy and support a high level of instruction while the area recovered,” said Brian Gaines, CEO of the MdBio Foundation. “We are honored to receive this grant from Rebuild Texas, acknowledging our work to date and allowing us to continue providing STEM education in hurricane-impacted communities.”

MdBio's Learning Undefeated program kicked off last November with visits to the Port Aransas Independent School District near Corpus Christi and the Houston Independent School District. It was initially supported by $40,000 in contributions from Maryland companies AstraZeneca and its global biologics research and development arm, MedImmune, CNSI, Northrop Grumman and VWR International.

Since then, the Learning Undefeated program has received two additional grants from Rebuild Texas, totaling more than $465,000, and served more than 2,300 students from South Texas schools, including Refugio, Wharton, Houston and Port Aransas. The grant enabled the mobile lab to visit an additional six south Texas schools for three to four weeks each during the fall semester in towns impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

“MdBio Foundation has been a fantastic partner of the Rebuild Texas Fund,” said Cristina Cornejo, program officer for the Rebuild Texas Fund. “The team brings a wealth of knowledge, high energy and a passion for assisting schools and communities in need along the Texas coast. Through the partnership of Rebuild Texas Fund and MdBio Foundation, we have been able to assist students, teachers and school districts with their science laboratory needs as they continue to recover from Hurricane Harvey.”

About the Rebuild TexasFund

The Rebuild Texas Fund is a collaborative project of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and the OneStar Foundation, established to support the rebuilding efforts in communities impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The Rebuild Texas Fund works alongside organizations within the impacted communities that are making an impact in the following six focus areas: community and economic development; health; housing; education and childcare; transportation and workforce; and capital for rebuilding small businesses. The Rebuild Texas Fund will continue to fund projects and organizations within these areas through the end of 2019. Funding through the Rebuild Texas Fund is provided to eligible nonprofit, government, corporate, and philanthropic organizations working on the ground in Texas communities that have been affected by Hurricane Harvey. More information about the Rebuild Texas Fund is available at