Laura Dress Judges iGEM High School Jamboree

Aug 19, 2014

Motivating high school students to conduct research in the emerging field of synthetic biology is no easy feat. Yet, the iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machine) Foundation has accomplished just that.

In 2003, a group of MIT students planted the seed for iGEM when they, “designed biological systems to make cells blink,” during a four week Independent Activities Period. Just a year later, this four-week period had turned into a summer long competition among five college teams. The competition’s mission to promote “the advancement of science and education by developing an open community of students and practitioners in schools, laboratories, research institutes, and industry.” In 2012, iGEM expanded to include competitions for high school students and entrepreneurs. In 2013, the college competition drew in 215 teams from all over the world.

Six Red Marbles’ product manager Laura Dress first connected with iGEM in 2008 when she collaborated with a team from Alberta, Canada to present her findings on forward engineering an oversight system for the nascent field of synthetic biology per product, process, and enabling technology. In 2009, she received the prestigious Best Social Issue in Synthetic Biology award from the Synthetic Biology 4.0 conference in Hong Kong for this work.

Because of Laura’s achievements in synthetic biology, iGEM asked her to serve as a judge for the 2014 High School Jamboree and also help choose which team would be awarded the Best Human Practices Award. This award commends groups who “help human civilization consider, guide, and address the impacts of ongoing advances in biotechnology.”

With over 50 high school teams, 20 judges, and 14 possible awards, the High School Jamboree was a whirlwind experience unlike any other. The day began at 8:00 a.m. with a brief meeting among the judges, and continued nonstop from there. As a Human Practice/Track judge, Laura joined two other Human Practice/Track judges to review their assigned nine-student, 20-minute presentations that concluded with 5 minutes of Q&A from the judges and audience. When it came to judging each of the team’s wiki page and presentation, Laura said “with the quality of rubrics given, it made judging the groups straightforward.”

Her judging experience came full circle when she presented the Best Human Practices Award to the Frederick High School team for their work on microbial fuel cells that create renewable energy and clean water. Laura welcomed the opportunity to present the award to this team that hails from her home state of Maryland. When she made the announcement, all of the students remained seated. Only one team member came up to accept the award because the rest were in such a state of shock. It is safe to say it was an unforgettable experience for all.

Laura was moved by the excitement, passion, and dedication that the participants exhibited throughout the competition. High school students were engaged in synthetic biology, investing their time, money, and drive. “I love that this competition fosters a passion and curiosity for STEM,” Laura said. “It also aligns nicely with Six Red Marbles’ Natural Learning Approach™ and Six Core Principles.

Laura is happy to announce that this will not be her last time judging for iGEM. Later this year she’ll be a collegiate-level Policy and Practices judge at the Giant Jamboree at MIT from October 30–November 3!

See more photos of the Jamboree on Facebook.

A little bit about Laura

Laura Dress received her BS from the University of Maryland at Baltimore County in an interdisciplinary studies program of her own design: Biological, Ethical, and Social Dimensions of Health Care. She is product manager of Curriculum Insight at Six Red Marbles’ Baltimore office. Before she became a Marble, Laura worked for The Vanguard Group, Pink Army Cooperative, and T. Rowe Price.

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