December 15th, 2017
Hints for a Successful PhUn Week Event

Having been a part of PhUn Week in some way for the past 8 years, I know that the APS Education Office makes it nearly impossible for PhUn Week not to be successful. With all the resources they offer scientists, teachers, and students, anyone hoping to start their own PhUn Week program should have no problems. However, I have found some ways to make the experience even easier to implement from a logistics standpoint, and in so doing, have found that it’s even more educational, not only for the K-12 students, but also the volunteers.

For the first few years I was involved in PhUn Week, I was a postdoctoral volunteer working with a well-organized scientist who had the student lessons mapped out in detail. She obtained all the materials for us. She coordinated absolutely everything from which grades we’d be working with and which volunteers would help with which lesson at which school at what time and for how long. I did not realize how much time and effort it must have taken to organize everything to reach several hundred K-12 students, but I did enjoy my time with the students and knew that I would like to continue with PhUn Week as the lead scientist. But after my first year organizing my own PhUn Week as a new, full-time faculty member, I came to realize how daunting a task reaching several hundred students at once would be. I was having a hard time planning lessons, obtaining materials, scheduling with teachers, and organizing volunteers, and it was only for one classroom of 3rd graders! I spent a few dozen hours (difficult to find as a new faculty member) organizing, planning lessons, obtaining supplies, and recruiting and training volunteers, only to reach about 30 elementary education students. While PhUn Week went off well and I knew I wanted to continue doing it, the level of effort I had placed on myself was unsustainable. I had hopes that I’d be able to reach many more students, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to best go about doing it again. As luck would have it though, in my 2nd year as lead PhUn week scientist, I had a problem (known all too well to many scientists) that forced me into changing my PhUn Week plans….a research funding problem!

A couple months before PhUn Week, I had a funded grant, with graduate research assistants dedicated to it, encounter a delay. I had 2 graduate students with nothing to do in the lab. It was a PI’s worst nightmare, but for a PhUn Week lead scientist, it was a dream come true. I tasked each graduate student with developing lessons for elementary students, organizing and training their own teams of undergraduate volunteers, and coordinating times with teachers to attend the schools and do the lessons with the children. While I did check to see if the lessons were appropriate and sound and occasionally stepped in to help with logistics of coordinating undergraduate volunteers, I was only minimally involved. I did have concerns initially that PhUn Week wouldn’t be as beneficial for the elementary students, but those turned out to be unfounded. The elementary students had a blast, the undergraduate volunteers had a blast, and the graduate students had a blast. The elementary teachers praised the volunteers and said that the lessons were effective and appropriate. But I was also getting incredible feedback from my graduate and undergraduate students. Many of them stated that it helped them understand physiology better having to think about it at such a simple level, and also reminded them why they were in the field in the first place, re-energizing them in their own studies.

The next year, fortunately for my research, I did not have research funding issues, but I also did not have graduate students that I could dedicate to PhUn Week. Utilizing what I had learned was possible from my graduate students the previous year, I decided to try something similar. I recruited volunteers in early September from our major’s “Exercise science” club by going to their monthly meeting, and talking about PhUn Week for 5 minutes. Over 20 people signed up. I contacted students who had volunteered the year before and asked if they would be willing to be a group leader. With my group leaders established, I called a “planning meeting” and provided the volunteers with the state’s essential learning standards for K-12 that were relevant to physiology, and let the group leaders discuss their thoughts on which ones they wanted to address and how. Volunteers then signed up with specific group leaders, contact information was shared, and an initial plan was established (i.e. Group 1 will be teaching the cardiovascular system to 5th graders). I gave the volunteers deadlines to meet including having a lesson plan approved by me 2 weeks prior to PhUn Week with a list of materials they needed. We had one more meeting in the week prior to PhUn Week where we made sure everyone had what they needed to complete their lessons and knew when and where to be, and that was it. As far as planning was concerned, I had not had to done any time consuming work, and the college student volunteers were having an educational experience too.

During PhUn Week, I attended the volunteer-led sessions as my schedule allowed, and helped out when I could, but otherwise, I was just observing and taking note of what worked well and what didn’t. By all measures, PhUn Week was once again a resounding success. We had quadrupled the number of elementary students involved, and the college volunteers had a meaningful experience that was truly theirs. The feedback I received from the elementary students, their teachers, and the college student volunteers was better than the feedback I had received when I had put in quadruple the time to PhUn Week. I had worked less and make PhUn Week better!

If you want to work less and have a student volunteer-led PhUn Week, here are my Top 5 Tips:

  1. Find volunteers early – PhUN Week is the first week of November, but undergraduate schedules are the least busy in August/September. Get them organized early or you’ll run into scheduling conflicts later.
  2. Recruit volunteers from in-majors clubs or other academic groups with physiology ties – in my experience, these students are usually the ones more likely to sign-up, show-up, and do a good job.
  3. Relinquish control – give the volunteers ownership of their own projects. They get a better experience overall, but also having a vested interest in the project really brings out the best in many students.
  4. Give parameters – Provide the Essential Learning Standards for the grade levels you’re working with and the PhuN Week webpage or LifeSciTRC , but allow volunteers to decide what to do and how to do it.
  5. Establish a designated contact/group leaders – logistics can quickly get complicated when working with undergraduate student schedules and K-12 schedules, smaller groups can help with this. Having someone who has previously volunteered for PhUn Week to organize the small group helps this and keeps the dozens of scheduling/meeting e-mails out of your inbox!
Ed Merritt is an assistant professor of kinesiology at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Ed received his doctorate in kinesiology from the University of Texas at Austin and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Cellular and Integrative Biology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine. Ed’s research focuses on the molecular events when things go wrong in skeletal muscle. Ed is also involved in the scholarship of teaching and learning and melding educational outreach activities with service learning. He is a member of the American Physiological Society (APS), serving on the Education Committee and Teaching Section Steering Committee.
November 1st, 2017
From graduate student participant to first-time project coordinator: My PhUn Week story.

I was first introduced to the wonderful world of “PhUn Week” as a doctoral student in 2012. A faculty member had partnered with their son’s 6th grade teacher and asked for graduate student volunteers to carry out and organize the festivities. Eager to get out of the research lab and engage in some community outreach efforts, I quickly volunteered. I next found myself reviewing our lesson plan for the digestive system, “How to make poop!”. The first page of the lesson plan read a point of caution: “Only teachers who can deal with planned pandemonium should attempt this”. What had we gotten ourselves in to?

During our weeks of preparation, we collected all the materials necessary to “make poop” and conducted a few test-runs to ensure we were adequate “poop makers”. In November we were greeted by a classroom full of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 6th graders who fell on the floor in laughter when they heard the word “poop”. After several minutes of wrangling in the forewarned pandemonium, our lesson plan was underway. Never before had I felt so passionate about the importance of mechanical digestion by the teeth or the critical role of pancreatic enzymes. I quickly found myself naturally falling into the role of an educator that day. It was a new sense of satisfaction I hadn’t experienced before, but I knew I wanted more! Not only did my first PhUn Week experience help to inspire those 6th grade students, unbeknownst to me, it also inspired my future career track. I participated again as a graduate student in 2013, but knew that wouldn’t be my last involvement. (Please see the file provided below for more details on the Digestive System activity, The Digestive System (How to Make Poop).pdf)

Fast forward to 2016, I was one year into my faculty position with Butler University’s College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences teaching Anatomy & Physiology to our Master of Physician Assistant Studies students. I found myself missing the community engagement and decided to take on my first PhUn Week as lead project coordinator. I always knew I wanted my first independent PhUn Week event to take place at Pleasant View Elementary (Zionsville, IN). I attended Pleasant View as a kid and knew this would be a great way to give back to an incredible school system. I next sought out the partnership of my sister-in-law and Pleasant View’s STEM/literacy coach, Kathy Drake, M.A. To my pleasant surprise, Kathy’s ambitions were even greater than my own! Next thing I knew, for my first stab at coordinating a PhUn Week event, we had decided to plan activities for the entire school (over 800 Pre-K – 4th grade students and 40 teachers).

With the PhUn Week theme being exercise and health, we decided to focus primarily on cardiovascular physiology. To help with our efforts I recruited 2 peers, senior physiology PhD students from Indiana University School of Medicine, and 12 of my Physician Assistant (PA) students from Butler University. The entire team worked together to create an exciting and diverse lesson plan including the following activities:

  • The Blood Maze
  • Cardiovascular Response to Exercise
  • Careers in Physiology, “What is Physiology?”
  • CPR Awareness
  • The Anatomy Challenge

Pleasant View students were first introduced to the basic anatomy of the heart and circulatory system, followed by a discussion of the importance of oxygen delivery to our entire body (head to toes). To demonstrate this concept, students and their teachers participated in an activity called the “Blood Maze”. Red blood cells (mini red frisbees) were delivered from the left side of the heart to the head and extremities (represented by plastic buckets with pictures taped onto them). Once the oxygen was delivered, students then returned blue blood cells back to the right heart to be sent to the lungs to pick up fresh oxygen. The students were asked to repeat the maze, this time jogging, to demonstrate an increase in blood flow rate. (Please see page 2 of the file provided below for more details on the Blood Maze activity, DrakePhUnWeekActivities2016.pdf)

After completing the maze, students then participated in a variety of exercise activities (jogging, hopping, skipping, jump rope, and hula-hoops) to witness the changes in their own heart rate. My PA students brought along their stethoscopes so they could help students listen to their hearts working hard inside their bodies. The importance of exercise and heart health was further reinforced.

3rd & 4th graders were allotted extra time in order to partake in additional activities including a careers information session during which the fields of physiology research and teaching were introduced to them as well as the PA profession including its similarities and differences to doctors and nurse practitioners. (Please see brief slide deck provided below for reference, DrakeWhatIsPhyisology.pdf)

Students then watched a short CPR educational video and were able to “practice” on a training manikin. The song “Staying Alive” by the Bee Gees was played and used as a tempo guide (a small dance party also ensued). The goal of this session was to bring awareness to what CPR is, why/when CPR would be performed, and what it looks like in order to hopefully remove any fear or discomfort related to student’s perception of CPR.


The final activity, the “Anatomy Challenge”, was a crowd favorite. Working with the Butler PA students, the elementary students solved an anatomy puzzle. Anatomical models of the human torso were used to teach the students about our internal organs, what they look like, their functions, and how they fit together inside our bodies.

Not only did the teachers and students of Pleasant View enjoy their PhUn Week experience, so did my graduate students:

It was really great to watch the kids’ eyes light up as they listened to a heartbeat through the stethoscope. You could see the dots connecting in their brains as we talked about the heart beat getting faster with exercise. It’s always “PhUn” to take what you love and get to spark interest in others and that’s exactly what we got to do at Pleasant View Elementary. As much as I think they enjoyed the days, I think we got a major confidence boost in our abilities to relay information that we’ve been learning over the years as well. – Kelsey Berggren, Butler PA Student ‘18

We walked away from our 2016 PhUn Week efforts confident that we achieved our goal of stimulating young student brains by introducing them to the field of physiology! Deciding to tackle your first independent PhUn Week event can be daunting, but I can say I am now more confident than ever and eager to begin planning for future events. As long as you’re passionate about inspiring the next generation of scientists, that passion will be contagious and you can do no wrong!


Mikaela L. Drake, Ph.D. is an  Assistant Professor of Health  Sciences at the College of  Pharmacy & Health Sciences    Butler University Indianapolis, IN.


September 29th, 2017
Spartans Stand Together in Service – MSU PhUn Day

Michigan State University (MSU) continuously strives to fulfill its mission of making a positive difference, both locally and globally, through educational tools. Thus, a large-scale community engagement project such as PhUn Day, not only helps tie MSU to a national outreach initiative in physiology put forth by the APS but also is an important tool for enriching local communities and promoting broader ideals among students. Each year, the event gains momentum and it becomes increasingly important for the outreach coordinators to strategically organize and plan to ensure that this is truly an experience that helps students reinforce physiological concepts while inspiring them to become dynamic citizen leaders.  This year’s event is the 5th annual PhUn Day, which was held at Impression 5 Science Center (Lansing, MI) on Saturday November 5th, 2016. This event required 133 volunteers to operate 16 different stations and attracted over 900 attendees.


 I. Campus Involvement

An underlying goal of our PhUn Day, aided by the magnitude of the event, is to demonstrate professionalism to our student body. By implementing institution-wide teamwork, we sought to model and inspire dynamic professional skill-building to our students, include all individuals on campus with skills to offer and use educational tools to make a positive difference in our local community.

The past 5 years enabled us to build a diverse network of backgrounds and units across the entire 15-mile campus to support and sustain the event:

 1.  The Physiology Department:

  • Funded supplies
  • Rented larger technology items
    • Laptops
    • Cameras

2.  Faculty, staff, retirees, and students:

  • One faculty member/one staff member designated as volunteer outreach coordinators
  • Formed planning committee across multiple position types
  • Packed PhUn bags (APS backpacks)
    • Reserved department conference room
    • Filled bags with crayons, handouts, APS career trading cards, etc.
    • Open house packing format – individuals contributed for short/long periods of time
  • Loaded and transported supplies to the venue
  • Volunteered at the event
  • Advertised the event via flyers, social media, listservs and word of mouth within/outside of campus

3.  Research faculty:

  • Donated common research-related items
    • Test tubes – DNA activity
    • Microcentrifuge tubes – blood/immunity activity
  • Collected cardboard boxes from lab shipments for transportation of materials
  • Offered expertise
    • Volunteered at stations related to their research
    • Created supplementary activities based on familiarity with topics

4. Teaching faculty and academic advisor:

  • Primary recruiters of undergraduate volunteers via class email lists and close-knit relationships
  • Incorporated service learning into the classroom
    • Extra credit
    • Honors’ Option credit for crafting a new outreach activity
    • Department/laboratory course resources provided (scissors, glue, posters, etc.)

5. Teams from undergraduate clubs and societies volunteered:

  • Biochemistry Club, Human Biology Club, Neuroscience Club, Physiology Society, Pre-Medicine Club and Pre-Physician Assistant Club.
  • Clubs offered points for participation
  • Club volunteers encouraged to wear t-shirts promoting their organization

6.  Graduate students and societies:

  • The Physiology department, other related colleges and the American Physician Scientists Association
  • Acted as station leaders
    • Research interests aligned with station
    • Gained experience
      • Practical application of course information
      • Taught a general audience
      • Mentored, oversaw and worked together with their team

7.  The MSU College of Human Medicine and College of Osteopathic Medicine:

  • Lent anatomical models for display
  • Generated unique videos that illustrated physiological events using advanced equipment (MRI or ultrasound)

8.  Departments from other colleges:

  • Division of Histology explored cells, tissues and microscopy
  • Neuroscience program facilitated nerve stimulation and mediated handling of brains
  • Social Science collected data for research regarding gender differences involved in student interactions and responsiveness

9.  Advertising campaigns:

  • MSU newspaper/radio broadcast across the entire campus whereas flyers alone would be limited

10.  The MSU Center for Service Learning and Civic Engagement (CSLCE)

  • Provided bus tokens to volunteers for transportation (venue off-campus)
  • Advertised to individuals seeking service opportunities

II. Shifts/Coordination of Volunteers

Shifts were divided into full (9:30am-4:30pm) or half (morning: 9:30am-1:00pm, afternoon: 12:30-4:30pm) days. A slight overlap of time between shifts accounted for late arrivals. A Google Spreadsheet link was circulated via email and volunteers signed up on their own. Many chose to work a full day but split shifts between two different stations. Each station required one team leader and 3-10 volunteers, based on difficulty of the tasks performed.

One month prior to the event, team leaders met with the outreach coordinators to familiarize themselves with the materials and activities. For more difficult activities, additional volunteer training sessions could be needed beforehand. Two weeks in advance, all volunteers attended a training by the venue to receive facility rules and tips for interacting with children.

III.  Stations


Station Title


Careers What’s A Physiologist? Welcome/Exit station

Introduction to careers in physiology

Animal Physiology How do you keep warm? Compare mammalian insulation methods using plastic bags in cold water that were empty or filled with feathers/Crisco (“fat”)
Medicine You’re the Doctor! Explore equipment (stethoscopes, BP cuffs, tendon hammers, lab coats, etc.) and how they are used in practice
Artery Assessment How Does Your Blood Flow? (Healthy Heart Race) Race through arteries, observe impacts of atherosclerosis using a blood flow model of gallon jugs, red-colored water and a two-way valve
Cell Physiology Discovering DNA Practice DNA extraction using strawberries
Muscle Muscle Mania! Measure strength using PowerLab hardware, a grip force transducer and LabChart software
Breathing How “Full of Hot Air” are you? Investigation of lung models and volume measurements using tubs of water, gallon jugs (with L measurements) and tubing to blow through
Exploring histology and microscopy (no poster) MSU Histology demonstrates microscope use, offers craft supplies to build 8×11″ paper cell models
Cardiovascular What’s inside your heart? A coloring station, anatomical heart models, walkable floor map of the circulatory system, stethoscope experiments
Vision Exploration Do you see what I see? Various vision tests like color blindness, negative afterimage, etc.; anatomical eye models, station to build spinning color wheels
Neuroscience (no poster) The MSU Neuroscience Club demonstrates neural stimulation of a muscle, showcases real brains
Osteology Bone Physiology & Skeleton Puzzle A large floor puzzle of the human skeletal system, exploration of bone physiology using real human skeletons
GI Physiology The Question of Digestion Naming puzzle of GI system, models for peristalsis using tights and Easter eggs, observation of MRI videos
Oral Physiology Tooth be Told! Egg carton models with black glue for cavities and aluminum foil for fillings to illuminate importance of oral hygiene
Hematology Blood Understanding blood, its composition and purpose, building models of normal blood/centrifuged blood by filling tubes various candies
Face Painting MSU Undergraduate Physiology Society 25+ images for painting on child’s face or arm, donations accepted
Physio Photo-booth (no poster) Photo station with a giant “Physiology” man with the face cutout or physiology props to hold

IV. Summary

PhUn Day is the flagship outreach event for our department and generates a lot of excitement every year. Although this largely focuses on logistics and fostering institution-wide participation, we recognize service as a mutually beneficial relationship. This event brings a lot of attention to our local science center and shares resources with our community members. Therefore, this is a novel learning opportunity that enables MSU to form innovative partnerships while simultaneously stimulating civic awareness.


Valerie VanRyn is an Instructional Laboratory Technologist at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, MI. Her role includes developing and maintaining undergraduate Physiology teaching labs on campus, assisting with the medical school labs, co-coordinating the departmental outreach, mentoring a number of student activities and educational papers. In addition to her work at MSU, she serves as the Secretary-Treasurer on the Executive Committee of the Michigan Physiological Society (MPS), a local chapter of the American Physiological Society (APS), and on the CAC 2017 Planning Committee for the APS.  She received her B.S. in Physiology from Michigan State University in 2015.
September 15th, 2017
Build community partnerships through PhUn Week: It Works

I became aware of PhUn Week during my time as the 2010-2011 APS K-12 Minority Outreach Fellow.  A requirement of the fellowship was to conduct PhUn Week activities in at least one classroom.  The goal was to take a scientist out of the lab and place them in a local school and it worked.  That year, over 1,100 K-12 students in six schools in San Antonio, TX were engaged in science outreach and it helped me establish seven years of partnerships with K-12 educators, schools, and community members.


 Types of university-community partnerships: What can you handle?

The types of partnerships you can establish vary.  PhUn Week activities are flexible and adaptable to fit a single one-time project or be developed into long-term, on-going continuum of projects.  Before choosing the type of partnership, take time to get to know your potential partner(s) – teachers, schools, administrators, or organizations.  Talk openly and listen carefully. Learn about each other.  Get a sense about the school district, the population they serve, demographics, barriers, culture, and purpose for the visit.  This process takes time and patience.  Keeping your long-term commitments in mind, realize you are determining fit, the level of partnership, and type of relationship you will establish:  high-level commitment + needs trust; low commitment + loose connection.

Consider your involvement carefully before you make a commitment.  PhUn Week activities are adjusted to fit various needs from a one-hour classroom visit or adapted to a gymnasium with 100 fifth-graders.  This is also a time to consider resources needed (How many volunteers? What supplies?).  Set realistic timelines, roles, responsibilities, and expectations.  Don’t be afraid to start small.  Small is good.  A small start is better than no start.

As the community partnership builds, share the decision-making process.  Find common goals and agree on activities that meet shared missions or outcomes.  For some partnerships, I have made science presentations and conducted hands-on activities in a 45-minute to a bilingual classroom (English/Spanish) during Career Day.  At other occasions, I engaged an entire grade level (K-5th and special needs classes) at a time in a gymnasium with group activities (over 500 students in one day).  At the middle school level, spending two full days (due to block schedules) in science classrooms where students rotated through five stations – then repeated the process for each class period till the students in an entire grade level participated.  PhUn week works well to create community partnerships and we have successfully adapted to various events. 


Sustaining and deepening university-community partnerships

Planning PhUn Week activities is just the beginning.  For projects where you wish to establish long-term relations, the partnerships must be sustained and deepened.  In this case, it is important for partners to work together, celebrate, and reflect on the experience.  Work with the K-12 teachers and school to set clear roles and expectations. Rather than take on the huge burden of doing PhUn Week activities alone, work together.  Be clear about what you can and cannot do.  Even when you do the planning, unforeseen events happen.  When volunteers don’t show up and you have to run 5 stations on your own, don’t panic.  Invite teachers, mature students, or others to step in help.  Ask for help.  By working together, relationships deepen.

Partnerships will improve when you take the time to celebrate and reflect on the experience.  Your work is not done when PhUn week is over.  The time after the event is a time to celebrate what was accomplished.  Partners put in lots of time and resources into the event.  Don’t minimize the impact of the event, rather celebrate the planning and execution of the activities.  Were your goals achieved?  Reflect and get feedback on the things that went well and did not.  Take note of lessons learned from both partners.  Some feedback and reflection is done immediately after the event; however you may need time for other feedback to be collected (demographics, volunteer hours, resources used, costs, etc.).  To this day, my favorite feedback about PhUn Week experience is when students complete a pre-visit and post-visit “Draw-A-Scientist” activity (APS, e-DAS Handout).  It may take a few days to collect student’s drawings and to visit with the teacher.

Recently, we tailored PhUn Week activities to university-community partnership that addressed social issues.  Social accountability and community engagement are major directives of the School of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of Incarnate Word and are integrated into the mission statement, strategic plan, and curriculum.  We took PhUn week activities outside the walls of the university and into the heart of the community. Over 3,000 people from across the city took part in the 2016 Science Fiesta in downtown San Antonio.  PhUn week activities were modified to a large, public, city-wide, free event where people of all ages to were invited to engage in hands-on science activities (PhUn Week style) and included an opportunity to “Meet a Scientist” and “Meet a Clinician.”  In this case, PhUn week helped us address social justice issues, engage vulnerable populations, and be positioned to help promote science, health, and education during the Science Fiesta.


Additional information about PhUn Week projects can be found at


American Physiological Society, 2007. PhUn Week 2006: Promoting the Understanding of Physiology in K-12 Classrooms. Physiologist, April, 50(2), pp. 62-63.

Jacobson, D. L., 2010. A new agenda for education partnerships stakeholder learning collaboratives. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 25 March.Volume 33.

Kerrigan, s., Reitenauer, V. & Arevalo-Meier, N., 2015. Enacting True Partnerships within Community-Based Learning: Faculty and Community Partners Reflect on the Challenges of Engagement. Metropolitan Universities, 26(3), pp. 63-78.

National Education Association Education Policy and Practice Department, 2008. Center for Great Public Schools. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 22 June 2017].

US Department of Education, n.d. Science, Technology, Engineering and Math: Education for Global Leadership. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 22 June 2017].

Zerhouni, E., 2008. NIH Director Newsletter. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 20 July 2014].


  Dr. Jessica M. Ibarra, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Clinical and Applied Science Education and a founding faculty member in the School of Osteopathic Medicine at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) in San Antonio, TX.  Dr. Ibarra teaches gross anatomy and neuroanatomy.  Dr. Ibarra began her undergraduate studies at Palo Alto College and earned an Associate of Science in Biology degree.  She completed her Bachelor of Science in Biology at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Dr. Ibarra earned her doctorate degree in Cellular and Structural Biology from the UT Health San Antonio where she also attended dental school and completed a postdoctoral fellowship. As a scientist, she conducted studies to explore the role of key inflammatory factors involved in chronic diseases such as heart failure, arthritis, and diabetes.  When Dr. Ibarra is not teaching, she inspires students to be curious about science with visits to local schools.  She has participated in science outreach through the APS Physiology Understanding Week, at the Science Fiesta, and the USA Science Engineering Festival in Washington, DC.  Dr. Ibarra’s passion for teaching and service translates into facilitating learning in the next generation scientists and physicians. She is active in APS as a member of the Porter Physiology and Minority Affairs Committee, Secretary of the History of Physiology Interest Group, a PECOP Fellow and a LifeSciTRC Vision and Change Fellow.
September 6th, 2017
An Introduction to Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week

What is PhUn Week?

PhUn Week is a nationwide outreach program building connections between scientists and their local schools. PhUn Week is distinctive for two reasons:

  • It fosters grassroots partnerships between biomedical researchers and K-12 teachers; and
  • It is carried out into classrooms by “citizen scientists” composed of a senior researcher along with his or her undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral students.

Individual physiologists, physiology departments, and regional chapters of the APS all coordinate PhUn Week events and activities during the first full week of November, ranging from single classroom visits to large-scale local events at schools, universities and museums.


The goals of PhUn Week are to:

  • Increase student interest in and understanding of physiology in their lives.
  • Increase teacher recognition of physiology in their standards-based science curriculum.
  • Introduce students to physiology as a possible career.
  • Involve more physiologists in outreach to the students and teachers in their communities.

How Does the PhUn Week Community Interact?

  • LifeSciTRC: PhUn Week Community members submit items in a number of formats including sample activities, posters that have been presented during the EB PhUn Week Poster Session, and journal articles.  These items are searchable using keywords: PhUn Week, K-12 Outreach, and EB Poster Session.
  • EB PhUn Week Poster Session: The session  is a highly interactive poster and networking session, highlighting outreach efforts by diverse physiologists working with preschool through 12th grade students and their teachers. Attendees meet PhUn week participants, learn details about the varied PhUn week activities held the previous year, ask questions, share best practices, and get advice on their own future PhUn week activities.
  • Blog: We hope this blog allows community members to reach a broader community of physiologists and teachers to share strategies for carrying out PhUn Week events and foster partnerships between schools/teachers and researchers.

How can I participate?

The PhUn Week website offers on-demand information and supporting materials. It provides numerous resources for physiologists to use in planning their PhUn week events, curricular materials for teachers to use in their classroom to expand on the physiologist’s visit, and career planning materials for guidance counselors and teachers to use in guiding future physiologists into the field.


PhUn Week History

The program started in 2005 with a field test in a limited number of sites and has grown steadily since. Formative goals for the first 10 years of the program included program growth (sites, participants, and leaders), diversification of program models, and development of a community of practice of physiologists and trainees involved in outreach. Eleven years of member-provided data indicates that the formative goals are being met.  Over 100,000 K-12 students have been reached during the last decade as an increasing pool of physiologists took part in a growing number of events including a number of international events.  The number and types of PhUn Week events have steadily increased as a community of practice has formed to support the program. Future program goals include targeting regional areas for PhUn Week participation, establishing research collaborations to further explore program impacts on students and teachers, and providing on-demand training for physiologists.


Margaret Shain Stieben is the Program Manager for K-12 Education Programs at the American Phys­i­o­log­i­cal Soci­ety. Her main responsibilities include developing, organizing, and implementing education projects aimed at promoting professional development opportunities for middle and high school science teachers and outreach opportunities among physiologists and K-12 teachers across the nation. This includes the Frontiers in Physiology Research Fellowship Program, PhUn Week, Local Science Fair Awards, APS Special Awards at the International Science and Engineering Fair and promoting career development in K-12 classrooms. She works extensively with both the Education and Careers Opportunity Committees on these projects and regularly attends meetings and conferences to give presentations about these programs.