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Biology Prof Excites Young Students about Science

10/05/16

When she’s not in a lab, teaching in a classroom or helping MCLA students with scientific research, biology professor Dr. Ann Billetz often can be found sharing her time and talents with members of the greater community.

The reason for this outreach is simple: “I love biology. I love science, and it’s fun to see little kids excited about science. Little kids who are excited turn into college kids who are excited.”

At nearby Stamford Elementary School in Vermont, Billetz and her students partner with teacher Susan Law ’08 to provide lessons and mentoring to her fourth and fifth graders. Recently, Billetz asked the class what cleans hands best; soap, or hand sanitizer?

“Dr. Billetz provided two Petri dishes to each student,” Law explained. “They placed their fingers in one dish before washing with soap or cleaning with a sanitizer, and another dish after washing or sanitizing their hands.”

After taking the cultures back to her lab to incubate, Billetz returned with them so the young students could compare the results. (Soap won!)

Billetz’s involvement with young students from throughout the region started when she first began to teach at the College.

“A local middle school teacher was taking my class for continuing education credit. We were in the lab, and I told the students to throw their slides in the trash when they were done,” Billetz said. “She asked me, ‘If I wash my slides, can I keep them? I don’t have a lot of slides at my school, and we really don’t have the budget to purchase them.’

“It was a shock to me, so I try to make sure that area schools have our extra supplies,” she said.

Billetz also provides Elodea, a plant that’s ideal for studying cells and chloroplasts, to Clarksburg Elementary School, and to Drury High School in North Adams. Because it’s an invasive species, Elodea cannot be purchased, “However, we culture it at the College for laboratory purposes,” she explained.

When Hoosac Valley High School in Cheshire opened its new school several years ago, “They had a lovely, new building, but no equipment,” Billetz said. In addition to equipment donations from MCLA, “We consistently allow them to borrow glassware.”

Billetz’s other science-related activity includes judging the annual science fair at North Adams’ Greylock Elementary School. She also serves as a judge at regional middle and high school science fairs.

It’s important to Billetz – who serves on the board of directors for the local Area Health Education Center (AHEC), a national organization designed to promote healthcare education in rural areas – to reach out to area youth.

Getting young students interested in and excited about science is her way of feeding the Berkshire STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Pipeline. “If you want students to study STEM in college, you must support them from the time they are young,” she said.