Biology Hosts Student Groups During Compass 2 Campus Tour Day

November 7, 2023

Compass 2 Campus (C2C), a mentoring program at Western, held its annual Tour Day on October 24. Tour Day is a kickoff event that brings over 1,000 fifth graders to experience classrooms and activities on Western’s campus. This year, the Biology department hosted three student experiences.

Two fifth grade students sit at a lab table, drawing on a whiteboard with markers in hand.

Biology professor and Chair, Lynn Pillitteri, took a group of approximately ten visiting 5th graders on a tour to various areas of the Biology building to learn how we visualize DNA and reinforce their knowledge of DNA as the genetic material.  A DNA molecule is colorless, but DNA can be visualized by adding a fluorescent dye that binds the DNA molecule and using an ultraviolet light source to excite the dye and emit fluorescence. The students got to see and interact with lab equipment used to separate DNA molecules according to its size through a porous matrix called agarose.

During Biology faculty Georgianne Connell’s workshop, students had the chance to observe a classroom lab space. The students worked together to decipher where on the food web the organisms they observed in the microscope belong. They drew pictures of their findings on white boards and worked in pairs and as a group to analyze whether were looking at phytoplankton or zooplankton.

In the afternoon, a group of students toured the Western Washington University Insect Collection (WWUC). With approximately 70,000 insect specimens, the WWUC is the largest public insect collection in Western Washington. The tour, led by curatorial student volunteer Cameron Brown, ignited the students’ curiosity. Brown stated that the students’ interests were more varied than expected. Brown said, “Our especially large and colorful beetles and butterflies predictably received the most attention... [however] there also seemed to be quite a bit of excitement over the stick and leaf insects.” As someone who has a passion for teaching and inspiring others, Brown really enjoyed answering the questions proposed by the students. Brown noted that when a student declared ‘I really want to be someone who studies animals someday. I’m kind of insect-phobic but bugs are really cool’; it stuck with him. Brown stated, “I’m confident those were the words of a future scientist – hopefully a future entomologist!”

Two fifth grade students sit at a lab table, one student is reading a paper