AlbertusProf SMSstudents-webBiology Professor Patricia Compagnone Post demonstrates materials for working with DNA to students from St. Mary School in Branford on Oct. 22 at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven.

BRANFORD – St. Mary School’s seventh and eighth graders are learning science and math from Albertus Magnus College faculty now as part of a new partnership.

The partnership is designed to improve the St. Mary students’ competitiveness in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields of study. The school’s STEM program aims to provide students with a dynamic, engaging series of educational experiences based on an innovative, in-depth and hands-on approach to science.

St. Mary students went to Albertus for the first time on Oct. 22 to meet Patricia Compagnone-Post, professor of biology at Albertus Magnus; and undergraduate assistants Nicole Kern, Angelina Piccirillo and Devon Dellallo at Tagliatela Academic Center's Biology Lab. The sessions, being taught by the college’s Department of Biology, Chemistry and Math, will run until the spring.

At the first session, the topic was the importance of DNA research, and how this area of study in both plants and animals is leading to a better understanding of how genetics plays a role in the disease process.

"We are learning that cancer is the result of damage to DNA molecules, and so it is a serious genetic problem," said Professor Post, “but through DNA research, there may be the potential for better treatment of certain diseases.”

Students covered a variety of topics related to biological molecules, cells, chromosomes, bacteria, transgenic animals and crops and other new areas of DNA research.

Professor Post taught the visitors how scientists analyze DNA through a process called gel electrophoresis and taught them how it is done.

Each student loaded DNA samples of organic soy, corn and wheat with assistance from Albertus undergraduate students, into a gel tank and watched the result when an electric current was applied.

St. Mary science teacher Doran Ward said that the students “all loved their day there” and later visited the sixth graders to tell them what they had learned and seen.

“I think it was a wonderful experience for the students, helping them to feel grown up, as well as smart and capable in a different, new environment,” she added.

Between trips to the college campus, the seventh and eighth graders will have a student from Albertus Magnus in their classroom.