For The WPT
Andrea Brown has always had a passion for learning. In 2007, Dr. Helen Kennard, former principal of West Oktibbeha County High School, recruited Brown to participate in an outreach component of a National Science Foundation Project involving wood decay.
Kennard chose Brown because of her academic talents, motivation and enthusiasm for learning. This opportunity granted Brown a chance to perform many research experiments that focused on understanding how fungi degrade different woods.
Every day after school for two years, Brown drove from WOCHS to work in the research group at the Forest Products Department at Mississippi State University. The decay study involved three woods: pine, cedar and preservative-treated wood undergoing decay in forest soil. After decay, Brown extracted the decayed wood stakes for DNA. She further used the extracted DNA to identify bacteria and fungi present on the decay wood.
Upon graduation from high school as valedictorian, Brown attended and completed an associate of arts degree at Meridian Community College on a full scholarship. In January 2011, Brown entered MSU to complete her four-year degree and continued to work on the wood decay project.
As a final component of the project, supplies and equipment for DNA analysis were purchased and donated to Brown’s former high school, WOCHS. Brown then demonstrated to biology teachers at WOCHS how to perform DNA extractions and analyses for use in crime scene investigations with the donated supplies and equipment.
“We greatly appreciate the donation of DNA supplies from the National Science Foundation. The entire team has been very kind and accommodating in training us to use the analytical equipment,” teacher Hespar Woods said. “Our students are going to have fun and enjoy this educational experience.
Having a lab that provides hands-on experience is often a better way to instill a concept into memory. This lab will do just that. It is something that they can read and actually get their hands on and see real-time results.”
Leonardo Thompson, principal of WOCHS, also said students stand to benefit strongly from the donation.
“It will actually give them an opportunity to practice some of the cool science experiments they see on television shows such as ‘CSI’,” Thompson said. “I also think this donation will encourage our students to want to look more into science careers.”
Brown confirmed her bachelor of science in psychology degree from MSU on May 12. She now plans to enter the University of Mississippi’s graduate school to work on a degree in criminal justice.
“This opportunity to work in a research laboratory at MSU while still in high school gave me new insight into understanding research methods to address real-world problems,” Brown said. “It also gave me the confidence to pursue higher education and, I believe, better prepared me to do graduate work in criminal justice, which will involve DNA. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to give back to my former high school.”