May 18, 2023
New safety videos focus on representing everyone who enters the lab
VCU project that reflects diversity in the sciences will be shared with a national consortium of schools.
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With a spotlight on diversity, the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Health Disparities and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety have collaborated to produce a series of videos on lab safety. The project was funded from a larger National Institutes of Health grant aimed at training students from underrepresented backgrounds in biomedical sciences.
“I feel like if you can see yourself represented, you feel like there's a [sense of] belonging. And if you never see yourself, then you're never going to belong in this area,” said Rita Shiang, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics in the School of Medicine.
She reached out to Larry Mendoza, a laboratory safety officer for VCU, to help with the project. Mendoza had been wanting to create new videos, “and he was really enthusiastic about it, which was great,” Shiang said. “The whole Office of Environmental Health and Safety, they were really on board.” The team started filming the videos in 2021 and wrapped up production in 2022. The focus now is on distributing the videos, which introduce students to lab safety procedures.
Faculty worked with students on the scriptwriting, acting and video production. Shiang works with the Center on Health Disparities, and with its efforts to encourage underrepresented students to explore STEM fields, she had a network to reach out to.
Mendoza said the collaboration and the emphasis on diversity, with different races and ages represented, made the project particularly rewarding. “It was really gratifying to work with the students and put this project together with them,” he said. “I got to work with some awesome people to produce something that's important, and it's part of what I do as a career.”
Bryan McKiver, a doctoral student in the School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and a member of the Center on Health Disparities through the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development Scholars Program, helped make the videos. He said the students were given a lot of creative freedom with the project, from choosing their characters’ names to developing lab-safety scenarios.
“And they let us be silly because a lot of people expect a lab environment to be very hard and rigid, but the point of science, in terms of us being here, is to do good work but also enjoy the work that we do,” McKiver said.
VCU Online for Faculty, formerly known as ALT Lab, also teamed up to make this project a reality. Shiang said they did the heavy lifting in terms of filming, editing and creating graphics for the videos.
Beyond training VCU staff, the new videos will be shared with community partners Virginia Union University and Virginia State University, as well as with a national training consortium. Mendoza said making the videos accessible to consortium schools allows any school that is a member has access to it. This also means if a researcher goes from one school that’s a member to another, they won’t have to rewatch the video.
“One way it's going to serve students of color isn't just by being for our institution but by sharing it with other institutions and trying to make it a common resource,” he said.
Combining the themes of lab safety and diversity is important because students feel more encouraged to pursue the sciences when they see people who look like them in the field, Mendoza said. He noted that videos VCU currently uses from the consortium are either narrated PowerPoint slides or only show older white men.
“So [the new videos] give a different perspective,” he said. “One of the things I like about VCU is that we are pretty open about representing minorities in a fair way. So this was just part of that, and I'm glad I got to do it.”
Shiang said incoming VCU students could see the videos as soon as this summer, and the visual representation of diversity is key. As she noted: “Everybody wants to be seen.”
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