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The Miami Project Reaches Out to Future Scientists Via Tele-Learning


The Miami Project Education Department has stepped into the “cyber” age and has been hosting a distant learning program with a high school in Virginia.  The Mountain Vista Governor’s School provides a research-based, technology-based, integrated program in math, science, and humanities for gifted and talented junior and high school students and their two campuses are in Fauquier and Frederick, Virginia, at the Lord Fairfax Community College.  The school serves school districts in 7 counties in Virginia.  The goal of their program is to “challenge students to reach their full potential as independent thinkers capable of assuming leadership roles in a constantly changing global society”.


The distance learning program began in 2007 thanks to Dr. Dalton Dietrich and his brother, John Dietrich, who is the lead Research Instructor at Mountain Vista.  When John Dietrich began his position at Mountain Vista 2 ½ years ago, the goal was to use distant learning technology only between the two Mountain Vista campuses.  With his Masters degree in Curriculum and Technology and in conjunction with his brother Dalton, and his wife Helen, and the education department at The Miami Project, they have taken the curriculum to new dimensions this year with the most professional support from the educational coordinators, expert technical staff, and competent research scientists.


The curriculum covers multiple aspects of neurotrauma research, the specialty of The Miami Project.  The first lecture was in December 2009 in which Dr. Kim Anderson-Erisman gave an overview of spinal cord injury, the basic mechanisms of repair, and the clinical trial process utilized to translate scientific discoveries.  In January 2010, Dr. Coleen Atkins gave a lecture on neuroprotection research and utilized hypothermia as an example of a therapeutic intervention.  Dr. Damien Pearse lectured about cell replacement strategies in February using many examples from his Schwann cell transplantation studies as well as his olfactory ensheathing glia cell transplantation studies.  In March, Dr. Helen Bramlett will give a lecture discussing neuroregeneration and neurodegeneration, using example from her research on progressive atrophy of brain structures following trauma to highlight opportunities for therapeutic interventions.  In April the curriculum will switch gears and start addressing long-term clinical problems associated with chronic paralysis of the central nervous system.  Dr. Edelle Field-Fote will talk about neurorehabilitation research and how different training protocols promote functional recovery in a differential manner.  Dr. Christine Thomas will discuss neural plasticity, changes or adaptations in the nervous system that occur with time post-injury, and how her research is discovering unique changes in neuromuscular properties associated with muscle spasticity.  The curriculum will conclude with Dr. Mark Nash giving a lecture about the neurophysiological changes that occur post-injury and how his research utilizing exercise conditioning can improve cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary, and metabolic function.


The students are required to do background research on issues associated with The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, prior to each distant learning session.  They are required to critically think about these issues and formulate questions.  It is a challenge that the students are ready to take head-on.  “It amazes me how much, we in the science field, take for granted regarding what these young people know and have been exposed to in life.  My students have commented on how fortunate they feel to have this opportunity to learn first-hand, with real scientists, especially in a synchronous environment” states John Dietrich.  They have discussed the often heard about situation in education that deals with a decline in our American youth in the field of math and science.  Distant learning is something that their junior and senior high school students will be exposed to more when they go off to college.  This opportunity has already demonstrated success as many of their student graduates have commented on its benefits.


Thanks to technological advances in telecommunications, the expert support from the University of Miami medical information technology staff, and the dedicated support of The Miami Project A/V team, we are able to teach young people around the country about the complexity and importance of neurotrauma research.  As this outreach program progresses we plan on recording the lectures and creating a teaching DVD that can be sent to other schools to use as an advanced teaching tool and encourage the next generation to pursue careers in science and to discover treatments for the vast amount of neurologic disorders that impact people’s lives.


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