Teachers get first-hand look at research campus

Two A.L. Brown High School science teachers got a summer's worth of hands-on experience at the North Carolina Research Campus, knowledge they can't wait to share.

April Baucom and Nikki Wolcott hope to inspire more of their students to careers in science with all they learned working in state-of-the art labs at the campus in downtown Kannapolis.

Dole Food owner David Murdock opened the $1.5 billion biotechnology complex in October 2008 with a goal to make it the world's "epicenter" of nutrition and disease research. Dole is the world's largest producer and marketer of fresh fruit and vegetables

Universities with a research presence on the campus include N.C. State, Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Charlotte, N.C. Central, N.C. A&T State and UNC Greensboro.

Monsanto Co., the world's leading provider of biotech crops, announced earlier this year that it signed a long-term lease at the campus to accelerate research into improving the taste and nutrition of fruits and vegetables.

Baucom and Wolcott were the first high school teachers to work full-time on research projects at the campus. They worked in its labs since June with Penelope Perkins-Veazie, a researcher with N.C. State University's Plants for Human Health Institute.

The teachers assisted her with a study seeking to identify lycopene content in watermelons. Lycopene is a red pigment also found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables. It's been studied as a possible fighter against certain cancers.

Baucom and Wolcott's campus-related work also brought them to the N.C. Department of Agriculture's Piedmont Research Station in Salisbury.

They did everything from pick and pack blackberries and raspberries to measure the color and firmness of fruit, using high-tech equipment I watched in action in a campus lab last week.

Using the equipment helped hone their lab skills, they said. And now they can make such research more real to their students, they said.

They also hope to show their students that such scientific fields are accessible to them. Both have taught at A.L. Brown for 10 years.

Wolcott, 32, grew up in Fulton, N.Y., 10 miles south of Lake Ontario. She is an earth and environmental science teacher.

Baucom, 48, is a 1980 graduate of South Rowan High School. She teaches honors and AP biology.

They inquired about summer opportunities after one of Baucom's students, Ashlyn Doby, interned there. Ashlyn will attend N.C. State this fall and major in biology.

The Plants for Human Health Institute at the campus also welcomed 16 interns this summer, in addition to an internship program with South Rowan High that has been in place since 2009.

Perkins-Veazie and others on the campus are also members of the Kannapolis City Schools strategic planning committee, which earlier this year developed the 2015 Strategic Plan, strategic goals that will guide the school system over the next five years.

"We're just happy to make this all relevant to our students, and what better way than to have done it ourselves," Wolcott said.