We often hear of opportunities for high school students to participate in college-level projects, but I believe that younger students should have the same opportunity. My Fulbright Alumni Community Action Grant project shows that natural leaders in the scientific field can be discovered much earlier. “The Little Scientist” provides training on methods of scientific thinking and advanced lab techniques to foster the leaders of tomorrow who can — and hopefully will — change the world!
During the project, I worked with 11 public and private schools in Lebanon in just 6 months, which led to 100 hours of training! All of our grantees were ages 10–14, embarking on this life-changing ride. These bright minds have a love of learning and discovery, a strong passion for the life sciences, determination, and a challenging spirit. They are diligent, show sharp observation, have practical skills, and aspire to serve humanity.
With the support of Dr. Hala Gali-Muhtasib, Professor of Cell Biology at the American University of Beirut and Dr. Maamoun Fatfat’s, 10 young scientists learned about the different types of cancer, the different equipment and devices needed to maintain cells in culture, and the do’s and don’ts when inside a cell culture room. With everything in order, participants delved into their first advanced hands-on experience.
Learning about the life of a cell, DNA fragmentation, and tests to detect changes in a cell, students got to observe and analyze different types of electrophoresis. I was always available to simplify the procedures and share some tips and tricks I learned while in the United States. I was also eager to have students understand the rationale behind the steps and constantly challenged them with questions and tasks. Students always had inquiries, were intrigued, and presented fruitful discussions.
Led by the amazing lab manager, participants then observed more than 10 different types of equipment in action during their trip to the Kamal A. Shair Central Research Science Laboratory at the American University of Beirut (AUB). With intriguing interests about overcoming limitations of advanced devices such as the scanning electron microscope, this visit was one highlight in the six-month journey for almost all students!
As the closing ceremony grew nearer, Ms. Nissrin Darazi (my co-instructor) and I held another round of post-lab hands-on and minds-on examination. In addition to the maturity of answers, the progress was truly promising!
To share the story with a wider audience, the team introduced students to the requirements of scientific posters and everyone worked hard to wrap up inspirational moments in student testimonies and a poster session. In addition, the festival introduced parents and educators to the journey of “The Little Scientist” and thanked everyone who made it possible.
It wasn’t until this project that I was reassured that what started out as an inquisitive passion of a 12-year-old can make a difference. Faith, passion, determination, love, and belief- these factors fueled the intrinsic motivation of independent learners not just in science but in all the venues of life. I believe that science is magic, and I can say that this activity exceeded expectations and proved that when one believes in the potential of the future generation, even the sky is just a limit!
With this research project, I believe I have only scratched the surface of our talented youth. I not only got to understand how to best encourage engagement with education, but also immersed elementary and middle school students outside the regular classroom in an enriching and rigorous university atmosphere. Its promised success can lead to a paradigm shift in how we see school education and the integration of higher level thinking and hands-on training in a revised curriculum structured to foster creativity and innovative thinking.
Hiba completed her MS in Biology at Georgia Institute of Technology (2012–2014). With two members of “Ana Mawhoub” (a group of experts aiming to discover and nurture giftedness in youth) on board, the team completed Stage 2 of The Little Scientist in August 2017 and is preparing to welcome another group of applicants in the upcoming academic year.
Read more Fulbright stories here.