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University of Iowa News Release

Jan. 23, 2004

UI Hygienic Lab Reaching Iowa Schools Through IPTV Partnership, ICN

Public health microbiologist Michael Pentella, Ph.D., knows how to hold an audience of school kids - even if no one is sitting in his classroom.

Through a partnership with Iowa Public Television (IPTV), Pentella and other University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory (UHL) staff members are bringing the wonders of the biological sciences, the environment and public health to thousands of Iowa youngsters through the Iowa Communications Network (ICN), the statewide, fiber-optic telecommunications resource.

The ICN series is the result of collaboration between IPTV, the UI Speakers Bureau and UHL. This effort is a key public outreach component of the yearlong UHL Centennial Celebration (1904-2004).

The UHL presentations are part of IPTV's "K-12 Connections," a program that gives Iowa's elementary, junior high and high school teachers and students access to unique distance-learning opportunities via the ICN. UHL-hosted sessions include: "Germs Make Me Sick," for students in kindergarten through third grade; "Edible Aquifers," "Environmental and Public Health," "Infections in the Schoolyard," and "Stream Critters" for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders; "Iowa's Public Health Lab" and "Microorganisms and Me" for junior high students; and "Careers in Public Health," "Hands-On Surface Water Case Study" and "Homeland Security" for high school students.

"We have been pleased to include 11 different UHL sessions in our 2003-2004 calendar of events," said Michelle Eastman, distance-learning coordinator at IPTV. "Videoconferencing brings students face-to-face with UHL experts with whom they may not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet."

Since late last November, approximately 900 students from schools across the state have participated in UHL sessions over the ICN, Eastman said.

Feedback from educators has been positive. One teacher, whose class participated in a session last November, noted, "Our school nurse taught a lesson earlier in the year about washing our hands, so this was a good review for us. It also covered many of the topics that we bring up as needed about staying healthy and safe."

Pentella recently conducted the "Microorganisms and Me," session for students from West Central Valley Middle School in Redfield and from Pomeroy-Palmer Schools. As Pentella delivered his lecture and showed slides of microbes such as E. coli and Ebola from an empty ICN classroom on the UI Oakdale Research Campus (where UHL is based), the students followed along from their own school's ICN site. Near the end of the session, the students transmitted their questions, such as, "Do you ever work out in the field?" and "What's the difference between hepatitis A and hepatitis B?"

"When you cannot see the students' faces, you sometimes wonder if you're getting through," Pentella said, "but obviously they're paying attention to the discussion, based on the questions they ask. I've been impressed with the experience. It's rewarding to reach young people like this."

Pentella hopes students come away from his sessions with a better understanding of different types of microorganisms, how they are all around us and how they can be transmitted.

"Prevention is something I emphasize," Pentella said. "The importance of hand-washing, the spread of germs when we cough or sneeze, guarding against mosquito or tick bites - there's certainly a public health aspect to what we discuss so that kids can learn how to protect themselves and their families."

ICN provides the funding that enables IPTV to provide the distance learning sessions at no cost to K-12 students across the state, Eastman noted. During the 2002-2003 school year, more than 63,000 students statewide took part in the ICN video classroom sessions, she said.

"How many students in Iowa have had the opportunity to interview a NASA astronaut, travel the Underground Railroad, meet a Nobel Peace Prize recipient or get up close and personal with a germ?" Eastman said. "The Hygienic Laboratory sessions have been well received by students and teachers, and we hope to continue our collaboration with them."

For more information on IPTV's "K-12 Connections," visit their Web site at More information on the University Hygienic Laboratory can be found online at

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032,

NOTE TO EDITORS: Additional University Hygienic Laboratory educational sessions via the Iowa Communications Network are scheduled for Jan. 26; Feb. 16, 20 and 27; March 3, 4, and 5; and April 23. For details, contact Beth Hochstedler at UHL at 319-335-4303.