The UF Health Cancer Center hosted its third annual conference for middle and high school science teachers over two days in July, drawing 60 teachers from across the state.
The free conference, held July 26 and 27 at the University of Florida Cancer/Genetics Research Complex, offered teachers a unique opportunity to hear about the leading-edge research taking place at UF and connect with scientists, physicians and students to engage in a dialogue about community health and well-being.
The conference, which returned this year after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19, also included a social event at the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art. The goal of the conference is to build relationships with educators in the community to raise awareness and disseminate information about cancer risk and prevention.
Dietmar W. Siemann, Ph.D., the Cancer Center’s associate director for education and training and the John P. Cofrin Professor for Research, said he was thrilled with the turnout, which has grown from 25 teachers the first year the event was held in 2018.
“We’re excited,” he said. “The teachers are so enthusiastic. It’s really nice to see the energy. The presenters are excited as well to do this for teachers. I think everyone recognizes what the teachers do for us and for our kids.”
The conference is an important component of the UF Health Cancer Center’s outreach efforts. The event provides a valuable networking opportunity for educators who may not often have a chance to come together.
“It’s a way of getting information through the teachers to the students in the schools, but at the same time we get feedback from the teachers in terms of what we can do differently,” Siemann said. “I think it’s really important for us to be interactive with the community. For us to connect and build relationships with science teachers absolutely should be part of what we’re doing.”
The conference drew teachers from across the state, with some coming from as far away as Miami and Tallahassee. The UF Health Cancer Center reimburses teachers who come from outside of Alachua County for mileage and lodging to ensure cost is not a barrier for anyone to attend.
“The teachers make a significant effort to come here, and I think that also speaks to their interest in participating,” Siemann said. “They appreciate the efforts of the Cancer Center in reaching out to them.”
Amanda Matusik, who teaches biology at Boone High School in Orlando, traveled to the conference for the second time after finding the inaugural event a rewarding way to help her students take charge of their health.
“I try to push self-care with my kids because a lot of high school kids don’t check themselves or do any of that,” she said. “With all of the new therapies, I like to be in the know. This is happening now.”
Matusik said she was intrigued to hear about how quickly research is translating to human trials. “The speed at which science is advancing every year is probably the most interesting for me,” she said.
She also appreciated the speakers’ efforts to present information in an accessible way so she can in turn share it with her students in ways they find easy to understand. “It’s fun and different for us to be students again,” she said.
Ray Johnson, who teaches anatomy and physiology at Leon High School in Tallahassee, agreed. “It’s opened my eyes to more of what I should be reading,” he said.
The presenters spanned a variety of topics, ranging from novel brain tumor targeting to cancer and aging. Presenters also made the sessions interactive, leaving time for questions.
“The speakers were really informative,” said Robin Cochran Dirkson, who teaches undergraduate dual-enrollment biology to high school students in Sumpter County.
“I think it’s going to give me depth that I can use to inspire my students to go toward biology, medicine or cancer.”Robin Cochran Dirkson, high school teacher