2011-01-27 / Around the County

Students Attend Class at Cornell

Eric Gross


Kristen Ohberg and Bobby Saumell prepare DNA from a jellyfish that is to be combined with bacterial DNA. 
Photos by Eric Gross Kristen Ohberg and Bobby Saumell prepare DNA from a jellyfish that is to be combined with bacterial DNA. Photos by Eric Gross Forty-six Brewster High School students had a once-in-a-lifetime experience when they attended Cornell University to learn from some of the most brilliant scientists in the world.

Under the direction of Brewster High School biology teacher Jordy Douglas, who is a member of the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers, the students participated last week in the outreach program designed to bring higher-level lab work to high school pupils.

The trip marked the 11th consecutive year that students from Brewster were able to attend the prestigious Ivy League school. Douglas told the Courier that no other high school students anywhere in the U.S. have such an opportunity: “Students might visit Cornell for a couple of hours, but no school conducts such an advanced and comprehensive program.”


Nadia Jackson types digested DNA samples for fingerprinting. Nadia Jackson types digested DNA samples for fingerprinting. During the three-day stay in Ithaca, sophomores, juniors, and seniors used Cornell’s facilities. Douglas explained that due to the intensity of the time spent on campus, “our students were able to master three weeks of materials in only 72 hours. I could never accomplish that amount of work with my students in three weeks, let alone three days. The institute allowed the youngsters to learn and absorb great amounts of scientific knowledge.”

While students learned about DNA by typing their own and isolating DNA from animals such as a jellyfish, the highlight for many of the teenagers came when they studied a fistulated cow.

Fistulated cows are used to research how cows digest plant matter. Veterinarians surgically create a rumen fistula in the cow when a small incision is made in the skin. The cow’s abdominal cavity is opened and the rumen is sutured to the skin. Douglas said once the surgery is completed, the “first thing the cow does is eat. The fistula does not affect the normal activities or behaviors of the cow. She eats and digests food just like her mates. She is also capable of becoming pregnant and lactating.”


Matt Hoffman transfers his own DNA to an amulet. Matt Hoffman transfers his own DNA to an amulet. Douglas said his students were “fascinated by the cows. When they placed their hand into the fistulated cow, the bovines kept eating. The cow enjoys it because when she goes in for a presentation, she receives a special treat feed.”

Senior Bianca Zanetti called the trip “awesome. Things in books really came to life. When I placed my arm inside the cow, it was really warm. She contracted her muscles around my arm. It was really cool.”

But fellow student Nicole Somarriba thought the experience was “gross. I really loved the trip but I could have done without that cow.”

Douglas praised the entire Brewster School family for the trip’s continued success: “The Cornell excursion has been so successful due to the support received each year from the faculty, staff, administration, parents and the students themselves. Everyone wants the trip to happen. The opportunity afforded Brewster students results from the Brewster community.”

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