Researching Learning

One week before the start of the spring semester the campus is quiet and cold. Sub-zero wind chills greet those brave enough to go outside. If you don’t have to go outside why bother? It’s a perfect week for students to sleep in before classes resume.

The mindset is much different inside Ferrante Hall where 10 students are coming to a biology laboratory every morning at 9:00 and receiving day-long, hands-on training in microbiology research techniques. The students, part of the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) and the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry (CSTEP) Programs of OCC and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), are participating in a weeklong “PowerLab,” a collaboration between OCC and RIT. “This is a great opportunity for the students who are really serious about knowing science,” said RIT Assistant Professor Dr. Robert Osgood who is running the program. “You have to LOVE science and want the opportunity to practice it to be willing to give up your winter break. Basically they are giving up sleeping-in to be here.”

Dr. Robert Osgood (right) works with student Jessica McCormack (left) during PowerLab.

Dr. Robert Osgood (right) works with student Jessica McCormack (left) during PowerLab.

The PowerLab is designed to expose students to concepts, techniques, benefits and advantages of research in a short timeframe requiring intense focus.  The assignment this week involves learning the laboratory, principles, procedures and protocols, then putting them to use while extracting DNA samples from saliva. The process is complex and involves multiple steps. The lab setting provides students the opportunity for hands-on learning. “To learn is to hear, to see and to do. That’s exactly what this PowerLab is about. It’s open-ended, hands-on stuff. When you get your hands involved in science it tends to stick in your mind,” said Osgood.

Students enjoyed the opportunity to work in a small group in a lab setting:

  • “It was great to be able to do something out of the ordinary. I’m much more of a hands-on student.” -Harrison Franklin (Jamesville-Dewitt), OCC Engineering Science major
  • “I loved the ability to work in small groups, have all of our questions answered and work hands-on in a lab. I’m a visual learner. The ability to see things being worked on and to work on them yourself was a huge help.” -Bria Cherebin (Nottingham), RIT Chemical Engineering major
  • “I like that it’s very hands-on. It allows us to get involved rather than sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture.” -Kaitlin Brockway (Saranac Lake), RIT Software Engineering major
  • “This is a great opportunity to actually touch materials and learn how to use them.” -Jessica McCormack (City-As High School in Manhattan), OCC Mathematics and Science major
DeWayne Garner Jr.

Student DeWayne Garner Jr. adds isopropyl to a saliva sample during the DNA extraction process.

Perhaps no student was more comfortable in the lab than OCC sophomore DeWayner Garner Jr. (Cicero-North Syracuse).  In February 2014 Garner was invited to participate in the Emerging Researchers National Conference in Washington, D.C. Garner gave a presentation on the immunomodulation of cystic fibrosis and won first place in the category of Microbiology, Immunology, and Virology. Garner enjoyed PowerLab and thinks students should strongly consider it in the future. “If you haven’t been introduced to research it’s a good primer. It helps you build certain skills. If you decide to go into research in the future this will put you ahead of the game.” Garner is a Mathematics and Science major on track to graduate in May. He plans to transfer to a four-year institution, major in biomedical engineering, and ultimately pursue a Ph.D.

“PowerLab is a great environment to ask questions in and to learn,” said Osgood. “Everyone who attends is like-minded and wants to learn about science. It offers students the opportunity to be taught or to practice and refine what they have learned. Regardless of their knowledge or skill level, the PowerLab approach leaves students encouraged, enlightened and confident as they engage their future in science. All of the advantages of having students from various scientific backgrounds learn from each other while they are learning together are realized with the PowerLab atmosphere.”

Drake Harrison is OCC’s CSTEP Director. He sees huge benefits coming from the weeklong event. “PowerLab and other opportunities like this one are fundamental to the education of students. They walk away with a heightened sense of awareness and confidence through what I call ‘community building.’ PowerLab allows students to build relationships with each other and develop support systems which can have a positive impact on performance.”

Students interested in finding out more information about PowerLab or CSTEP can do so by contacting Harrison at (315) 498-2307 or

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