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Cumming and Atlanta children part of insect research project

2019-09-25-Lampert and Sangweme and Super Science Kids -2
Dr. Evan Lampert teaches children involved with the nonprofit Presencia about insects. The children spent time outside catching insects and then Lampert identified the insects to the children. Presencia is a neighborhood-based tutoring, mentoring and leadership development program in Atlanta's immigrant community.

University of North Georgia (UNG) faculty members Dr. Evan Lampert and Dr. Davison Sangweme asked a handful of children one simple question: "What is an insect?"

The children between ages 7 and 18 replied with one word — bugs. Both men smiled.

"It's like asking 'What is the difference between a wasp and a hornet?" A hornet is a type of wasp," said Lampert, associate professor of biology at UNG. "In this case, a bug is a type of insect."

Correcting this simple misconception and exposing the children to science is part of a project Sangweme and Lampert are conducting through a mini-grant from the Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (CURCA) at UNG. The grants offer up to $3,000 to fund purchase of supplies, travel to conduct research, or specialized student assistance to faculty beginning or continuing undergraduate research projects in all academic areas.

"With this project, we wanted to fire up the kids with science and change the way they view insects," said Sangweme, assistant professor of biology at UNG. "And we wanted to learn about the prevalence of symbiotic Wolbachia in local mosquito populations and other insects."

The two men accomplished the project through a partnership with Super Science Kids, a program designed to teach and engage at-risk youth into the field of science and inspire the next generation of scientists, mathematicians and engineers. Founded by Angelica Krubeck, Super Science Kids collaborated with UNG faculty members to present a lesson followed by a hands-on activity for two area nonprofits.

The nonprofits were Mentor Me and Bald Ridge Lodge Boys’ Shelter, both in Cumming, Georgia, and Presencia in Atlanta, Georgia. Mentor Me serves children ages 6 to 17 with individual and group mentoring as well as after-school enrichment programs. Presencia is a neighborhood-based tutoring, mentoring and leadership development program in Atlanta's immigrant community. Bald Ridge Lodge serves boys ages 12-21 who are in the custody of the Department of Family and Children Services or referred by the local juvenile Court with counseling, mentoring, community support and engagement in positive activities.

"We were the guest speakers who taught them about insects that day," Lampert said.

2019-09-25-Lampert and Sangweme and Super Science Kids

Dr. Evan Lampert and Dr. Davison Sangweme teach children at Mentor Me about the different kinds of insects. Mentor Me serves children ages 6 to 17 with individual and group mentoring as well as after-school enrichment programs.

To cement the lesson, Lampert and Sangweme took the children outdoors to hunt down insects such as mosquitoes, beetles and wasps. The activity energized them.

"When the kids saw spiders, they were screaming and jumping," Lampert said. "With the other insects, they did a good job of picking them up by hand and holding them."

The children caught between 50 and 80 insects in one outing and had a few more weeks to gather about 200 insects. Sangweme, Lampert and two UNG students Courtney Hesson and Maryana Hernandez collected the insects and will test them for the presence of Wolbachia in a lab.

"Wolbachia may offer insights into how we can help control disease vectors harboring pathogens such as Zika, Dengue, Chikungunya and West Nile viruses," Sangweme said.

The children also were surveyed to see if their attitude toward insects changed.

"We needed to assess the effectiveness of the lesson and insect hunt," Lampert said. "We needed to see if it fired them up about science."

Sangweme said children should be encouraged to explore the scientific field at an early age.

"And we found some really smart kids," he said. "Some were going toe to toe with us."

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