Oncologist Brings Science to Life for Middle School Students

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By: William Fitzgerald, MD Anderson Staff Writer

MD Anderson faculty members are known for their commitment to education, but some have recently made their way into a special Houston classroom full of sixth-graders. It's their way of giving back to the community and sharing their knowledge housed inside the nation's largest cancer center.

On Tuesday evenings for the last 10 weeks, Jennifer Litton, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology, cruises over to Jane Long Middle School in Sharpstown, a suburb of Houston, to teach a group of 20 students about genetics and the importance of education. 

Her volunteer efforts are through Citizen Schools, a nationwide program that mobilizes at-risk communities and schools by placing local professionals in classrooms after the standard school day ends. From 4:00 to 5:30 p.m., students have extended time to learn new concepts and develop new skills, which pave the way toward future success.

Working with members of MD Anderson's Clinical Genetics Program, Litton and colleagues designed a genetics apprenticeship. The program teaches kids about DNA through interactive methods, such as using Twizzlers and Gummi Bears to build a genetic model.  In addition, students learned about tracking family disease and how genes translate to specific characteristics.

The students are excelling, learning things they never imagined and dreaming of careers once thought unattainable. Of course, every class has a test, right? The test for this group, and their new-found wealth of knowledge, is a presentation called Citywide. Last evening, the students joined other Citizen School apprenticeships from across Houston in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), to present their genetics project.

For Litton, and the team from MD Anderson, the end goal is to inspire kids and change lives. 

"We have so many resources at MD Anderson, including some of the best research and collaboration, and I think we have so much to offer these kids," Litton says.


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