Reflections on the 2020 Virtual Undergraduate Education Program


By Frederic Moulin posted 07-02-2020 14:22


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Although the Undergraduate Diversity Program (UDP) and Undergraduate Education Program (UEP) were both called off as a result of the SOT 2020 Annual Meeting cancellation, the Committee on Diversity Initiatives (CDI) redesigned the program to deliver some of the essential content virtually through a series of three webinars: “Introduction to Toxicology Live Lecture and Q&A,” “The Ins and Outs of Graduate School in Toxicology,” and “Online Undergraduate Research Presentations.” These presentations were held on May 18, June 4, and June 12, respectively.

Drs. Judy Zelikoff, Eric McDuffie, and Matthew Campen recorded the three scientific lectures planned for the UEP and made these recordings available to all program attendees and the event audience before the virtual program. 

UDP_1.pngDuring the first webinar, Marquea King, PhD, gave a very engaging and energetic presentation introducing the many facets of toxicology, its history, and its impact on society. This was followed by a live Q&A session with all the speakers. The event was moderated by the 2019 CDI Chair, Jim Luyendyk, PhD, with the assistance of the 2020 CDI Co-Chair Kymberly Gowdy, PhD, and me. All the undergraduate student participants appeared very interested and engaged with the panel. This event was limited to UDP and UEP participants and recorded 57 attendees, including the 14 UDP awardees, 19 UEP students, and 10 mentors.

The second webinar event, titled “The Ins and Outs of Graduate School in Toxicology,” allowed Undergraduate Diversity Program Student Travel awardees to meet virtually with eight graduate school advisors and current graduate students during breakout sessions. Each discussion group was moderated by a PhD student in toxicology and a professor of toxicology. During the event, the 11 student attendees learned tips for successfully applying to graduate school and asked questions about the student experience and how to succeed in graduate school. This session was limited to the Undergraduate Diversity Program Student Travel awardees to recognize their achievement in receiving the award.

For the third and final webinar, titled “Online Undergraduate Research Presentations,” 12 of the Pfizer SOT Undergraduate Student Travel Award recipients gave five-minute presentations on the research that would have been featured during a Poster Session at the 2020 SOT Annual Meeting. Each “science slam” presentation was followed by two to three questions for the presenter. The Faculty United for Toxicology Undergraduate Recruitment and Education (FUTURE) Committee coordinated the activities and reviewed the presentations before the event. The presentations were impressive both for their scientific content and for the quality of their delivery in such a “rapid-fire” format. In addition to the presenters, the audience included 12 student recipients of the UDP, seven research mentors, five program advisors, CDI volunteers, undergraduate meeting registrants, and guests of the speakers, for a total of 62 attendees.

UDP_2.pngBefore and during the program webinars, the Diversity Program Host and Peer Mentors engaged and connected with their assigned UDP student awardees. The mentors assisted them in understanding the program content, providing them with mentorship, and establishing meaningful relationships and interactions to keep students engaged with the program and connected with SOT opportunities and resources.

Overall, the sessions were remarkably well attended, lively, engaging, and fun for all the participants. CDI is delighted and excited with the outcome of all three webinars, especially with the level of involvement and engagement from the UDP mentors, volunteers, awardees, and undergraduate students who participated. While CDI delivered the content of the 2020 program virtually as a result of the SOT 59th Annual Meeting cancellation, the Committee plans to use the lessons from this experience to incorporate virtual activities as part of the mission and activities of CDI. 

CDI is immensely thankful to FUTURE, all the program mentors, the volunteers, the speakers, and everyone who made this virtual program possible, for their time, effort, and contributions to the 2020 Virtual Education Program; without their strong support, the goal of increased diversity in toxicology would not be possible.

While I missed the opportunity to engage directly with our students and the laughter and screams that always punctuate our UDP and UEP programs at the Annual Meeting, this experience was undoubtedly the best we could achieve under the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. I still hope to someday have the pleasure of meeting each of our awardees in person, but the 2020 virtual UDP opened my eyes to the new possibilities offered by virtual technologies. The ability to erase distances and bring us all together from the comfort of our homes is certainly worth the trouble of learning new tools, even for someone who still remembers what a DOS prompt was.