Education

Fontan Making an Impact as Summit H.S. Science Research Community Liaison

April 4, 2014 at 8:20 AM

SUMMIT, NJ - Courtesy of  a grant from the Summit Educational Foundation (SEF), Dr. Patricia A. Fontan was hired as Scientific Research Community Liaison at Summit High School (SHS).

Fontan's mission is to develop hands-on science research experiences for SHS students by connecting them with scientific laboratories in academia and industry.  Over the last eight months, she’s been quite busy on a number of activities.

She has been mentoring a SHS student who is conducting an investigation to evaluate the effect of glyphosate herbicide on bacteria growth, working with the student to identify genetically modified corn by molecular biology techniques (polymerase chain reaction, PCR) using equipment provide by the SEF grant.

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Dr. Fontan also recruited Anahita Wilson as a mentor for the program.  Wilson is an Environmental and Dietary Metabolism Chemist working in the Product Safety department of Syngenta, Agrochemicals Division.  She is successfully guiding a student in a project entitled “Assessing Zinc and Copper Toxicity to Daphnia and the Application of a Bioassay to a Local Watershed in Summit, NJ”.  This project is a result of the Science Research Program’s participation in the Martin’s Brook Watershed Cleanup grant that the City of Summit received from NJ American Water Company.  Recently, both students, along with eight others in the Science Research Program, participated in the North Jersey Regional Science Fair at Rutgers University.  Nine of the SHS students received at least one award.

Fontan has also identified a number of individual science laboratories at NJIT and NJ Medical School, Rutgers, which offer summer internships for high school students.  She has also linked students to applications for summer STEM programs at Stony Brook, Princeton, Rockefeller, Cooper Union and Rutgers.

As part of her outreach responsibilities, Fontan has started the Science Research Parents Association.  More than 50 parents attended the first meeting, showing great enthusiasm and willingness to support the initiative.  Parents have signed up for mentoring or fundraising, and are already actively searching for grants and internships for students.

In addition, Fontan made several contacts at Merck, and was able to visit the company warehouse in Kenilworth to secure equipment useful in setting up a molecular biology lab for the Science Research Program at SHS.  Most importantly, she established the mechanism to receive future donations from Merck.  Other contacts have been made with Celgene, the City of Summit Environmental Commission, and the Reeves-Reed Arboretum.  These organizations have several environmental projects, and are willing to include students from the Science Research Program.

Fontan expained, “As a scientist myself, I had the opportunity to mentor high school students, and I know how relevant it is for the kids to have this hands on experience.  Particularly, it helps them discover their vocation and interest in science in a way that books and lecturing cannot do.  High school students that take advantage of these internships learn to use the scientific method, formulate questions, and analyze results by participating in a real project, and use state of the art techniques and equipment.  In some cases, if they make a significant contribution, they may even be included as an author of the original scientific publication that results from the investigation!”

Parties interested in mentoring a student are asked to contact Fontan at pfontan@fc.summit.k12.nj.us.  F or more information about SEF, visit sefnj.org.

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