The Use of Virtual Research Experiences for Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) Program High School Participants During the COVID-19 Pandemic

J STEM Outreach. 2022 Aug;5(2):10.15695/jstem/v5i2.03. doi: 10.15695/jstem/v5i2.03. Epub 2022 Aug 3.


Objective: Kentucky has the highest cancer incidence and mortality rates in the nation, with rates greatest in the Appalachian region due to poor health behaviors and inequities in social determinants of health. The Appalachian Career Training in Oncology (ACTION) Program at the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center engages 20 Appalachian-native high school students annually in cancer education, research, and outreach activities. During the COVID-19 pandemic, programming was disrupted, and alternative activities were implemented, including virtual research experiences.

Methods: The program's goals were to improve students' biology and cancer content knowledge and research skills and help students make career decisions. Virtual laboratories were used to help accomplish these goals. This study aimed to evaluate the use of virtual laboratories embedded in the program and determine if such experiences helped reach the program's goals. A survey was used to measure students' perceptions of the virtual labs.

Results: Results indicated that students perceived they gained content knowledge, obtained research skills, and considered entering science and cancer-related careers.

Conclusion: The decision to incorporate virtual laboratories into the ACTION programming during the COVID-19 pandemic was a sound instructional choice. Evidence provided herein gives researchers and program developers information necessary to consider using virtual labs in their programs.

Keywords: Appalachia; Cancer Research; Research Education; Virtual Research Experiences; Workforce Development.