The National Science Foundation has awarded the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech $918,000 to expand its education and outreach program in Cyberinfrastructure – Training, Education, Advancement and Mentoring, commonly known as the CI-TEAM.

The institute will collaborate with scientific researchers and educators of high school and undergraduate students from several institutions nationwide to build its educational program for the next generation of computer-savvy biologists.

Oswald Crasta, project director at the institute’s cyberinfrastructure group, will serve as the principal investigator on the new grant. Daphne Rainey and Stephen Cammer of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute are co-principal investigators. The new project is entitled CI-TEAM Implementation for Biological Researchers, Educators and Developers, or CIBRED.

The new project will build upon the CI-TEAM Demonstration Project that was developed in collaboration with Galileo Magnet High School in Virginia and Bluefield State College in West Virginia. The project will involve collaborations between researchers from different scientific disciplines and educators. These scientists and educators will use experimental data as a starting point to develop and disseminate a transdisciplinary course in bioinformatics to five high schools and three undergraduate teaching institutions.

Students and researchers involved in the project will focus on the development of solutions for specific scientific projects in an environment that removes the boundaries between different research disciplines. The project will encompass collaborations with educational institutions, including the National University Community Research Institute, Hampton University, and Howard University. The experiences gained will be shared with a wider community through two annual workshops that foster interactions between educators and researchers. An external evaluator at Klagholz and Associates LLC, will assess the impact of the program.

Cammer, senior bioinformatics scientist at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, commented: “In 2005, Bluefield State College, Galileo Magnet High School, and [the institute] received a two-year, $287,000 grant from the [National Science Foundation] to start the CI-TEAM Demonstration Project. The CI-TEAM project developed a curriculum that introduced educators and students to the concepts, opportunities and challenges of cyberinfrastructure.” Rainey, senior bioinformatics scientist at the institute, remarked: “Students and faculty from Bluefield State College and Galileo Magnet High School worked closely together with [the institute] as a team to successfully implement the courses at both institutions. We are now in a position to take this project one step further, as we develop and introduce new courses in bioinformatics at other institutions.”

Crasta noted: “The new award will enable us to expand the project-centric approach in a sustainable fashion to more than eight educational institutions. New transdisciplinary courses in bioinformatics will be developed that focus on specific scientific projects and which require participants to develop solutions for ‘real-life’ research scenarios.” He added: “We hope to provide our growing constituency of young students with the information and skills that will propel them into highly rewarding, technology-oriented careers in the years ahead.”

Reinhard Laubenbacher, professor and deputy director for Education and Outreach at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, remarked: “This project is an excellent example of how an innovative research environment fosters innovative training and education opportunities. Education, like life sciences research, needs to become a collaborative effort combining a range of resources, and the [CI-TEAM Implementation for Biological Researchers, Educators and Developers] project follows this paradigm.”

Bruno Sobral, executive and scientific director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, remarked: “The CIBRED project reflects [the insitute’s] commitment to education by exposing high school students and undergraduates to the very latest, cutting-edge advances in cyberinfrastructure.” The National Science Foundation approved the award on April 25, 2008.

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