By Christina Dokter (

Dr. Susan Barman

Dr. Susan Barman

Two Department of Pharmacology & Toxicology professors are collaborating with a local school during Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week to draw more students into the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines.

“I am really excited to share my knowledge about physiology with young people who might be the next generation of biomedical scientists like Stephanie Watts and me,” exclaimed Susan M. Barman, President of the American Physiological Society. “Physiology Understanding Week fosters such connections, and this is the third year for us to visit Nancy Lefere’s Anatomy & Physiology class at Lumen Christi High School in Jackson.”

PhUn week is a nationwide outreach program created by the American Physiological Society.

Dr. Stephanie Watts

Dr. Stephanie Watts

Its purpose is to build connections between scientists and their local schools; to foster grassroots partnerships between biomedical researchers and K-12 teachers; and to bring scientists into the classrooms. During PhUn Week classroom visits in November, APS members engage students in interactive, hands-on physiology activities. Through this real-life, face-to-face encounter with practicing biomedical researchers, students learn about how their bodies function and how scientific discoveries are made. More than 11,000 students across the nation are anticipated to participate in PhUn Week.

“That’s why I think this week is so important for all high school students,” explained Barman. “What the American Physiological Society hopes is that more students will become interested in physiology and pursue a career in a related discipline.”

As professors in Michigan State University’s (MSU) Pharmacology & Toxicology Department, both Drs Watts and Barman know the importance of passing the baton to the next generation. When they were growing up, there were few opportunities, especially for girls, in the biomedical and physiological sciences.

“Such activities create relationships between local teachers and scientists, and the collaboration usually becomes ongoing,” explained Watts, who is a recent recipient of the 2012 Louis K. Dahl Award and is also an Assistant Dean in the Graduate School at MSU.

On November 12, both professors will work with a group of high school seniors enrolled in an Anatomy & Physiology course at Lumen Christi High School in Jackson, MI. The activity for the PhUn event is designed with three goals in mind:

  1. the students will learn some basic cardiovascular physiology;
  2. the students will be involved in experimental design;
  3. the hands-on activity will educate the students about the effects of drinking caffeinated beverages and exercise, especially combining the two, on their blood pressure and heart rate.

Nationally, many programs are targeting K-12 and higher education collaborations. Higher education associations (such as the APLU and AASCU) are calling for such activities in Project Degree Completion–a mandate to increase the number of undergraduate degrees granted by 3.8 million by 2025, while increasing the number of students interested in the STEM disciplines.