University News

UMass Amherst’s Up-and-coming Biochemists Are Already Recruiting the Next Generation—With Strawberries

Many students love their undergraduate major. But for students in the UMass Amherst Biochemistry Club, spending extra hours in the lab isn’t enough. Thanks to a grant from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), club members spent this past spring semester working with high school students in the Holyoke Public Schools to help plant the seeds for the next generation of up-and-coming biochemists. Their secret? Strawberries.

Members of the UMass Biochemistry Club performing experiments
Members of the UMass Biochemistry Club performing experiments using strawberry DNA

The Holyoke Public School system is currently under state receivership after being designated in 2015 as chronically underperforming. The district has been working to increase graduation rates, and as part of this goal, Holyoke High School has been redesigned to let each student choose a pathway that will prepare them for success in college, in a career or in community leadership. One of these pathways is the Medical and Life Sciences Pathway, designed to develop problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills for students interested in the biological sciences and healthcare. The UMass Biochem Club worked specifically with this cohort, performing experiments with them and conducting Q-and-A panels.

One of these experiments involved extracting DNA from strawberries. Michael Cotto, chair of the science department at Holyoke High School, said that “having the opportunity for a hands-on experiment was a great way to welcome students back from their spring vacation. Students were engaged and excited by the science!”

Anna Gorfinkel ‘22 and Ashley Sheehan ‘22, co-presidents of the Biochem Club, said that “Western Massachusetts is a hub of educational opportunities and STEM careers. As students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the commonwealth’s flagship public university, we have a great opportunity to use our proximity to Holyoke to serve as role models for students interested in continuing their education and pursuing careers in the life sciences.”

The Biochem Club is the ASBMB Student Chapter for UMass Amherst, and their mission is to help young people foster curiosity and interest in STEM. They have done extensive outreach to local communities since their inception in 2012, including programs at the Amherst-Pelham Regional High School, Girls Inc. of the Valley, and the Holyoke High School.