Rethinking STEM education: A university-community partnership to engage marginalized students in local conservation and antibiotic discovery

Major Goals and Objectives

The main project objective is to empower underserved students by directly involving them in innovative Great Lakes-based antibiotic discovery and providing exposure to careers in the environmental and biomedical sciences. Our team is uniquely suited to integrate community-based education into advanced, technology-driven problem solving in a remote or hybrid environment. Importantly, our program will allow students in afterschool programs like the Boys and Girls Club to go beyond workbook science and into real world problem solving. 

Aim 1. Supervised sample collection from the Chicago River and Lake Michigan lakefront.
Aim 2. High-throughput robotics to build a library of bacteria from their samples.
Aim 3. High-throughput robotics to test bacterial libraries against the human pathogens Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus.

Short-term outcomes

  1. Determine the capacity of bacteria derived from the Great Lakes to produce novel antibiotic leads via environmental collection, bacterial library generation, and screening against pathogens.
  2. Assemble and educate up to 20 middle school students over the course of the project period (broken down into two student cohorts, ~7-10 students per year).
  3. Engage the student cohorts in multiple steps of Great Lakes-based antibiotic discovery.
  4. Expose the student cohorts to weekly exercises that focus on environmental problems facing the Great Lakes.
  5. Expose the student cohorts to possible careers in STEM-based Great Lakes research via weekly guest career talks.

Long-term outcomes

  1. Discover and develop locally sourced antibiotics via spectroscopic identification and in depth biological profiling experiments.
  2. Expand our university-community partnership to other Chicago area BGC’s. 
  3. Acquire NSF funding to expand to up to five additional clubs and engage large numbers of youth in a pipeline toward STEM careers based on topics important to Great Lakes health.
  4. Disseminate the blueprint of our university-community partnership via detailed open-access publications, conference presentations, and other media promotions to the greater academic world and inspire the creation and improvement of similar programs nationwide.

Research Information

Principal Investigator:
Brian Murphy
Initiation Date:
University of Illinois Chicago

Our Work


Brian Murphy
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