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02/23/2019 Solving Genetic Mysteries with Online Tools and Family Histories TechShop Recap

April 25, 2019


Written by volunteer writer Amy Freeman


Halina volunteering at the Genetics workshop

Every time a patient visits a doctor when they’re not feeling well, it’s up to the doctor to ask the patient about their symptoms, then use the information provided, plus what they know about human health, to come up with a diagnosis.

In a lot of ways, figuring out what illness or medical issue a person has is a lot like solving a mystery. Although in the past, doctors had to rely on their own knowledge and whatever info they could find in books or journals, today, databases and other technological advances have streamlined the process.

During the Solving Genetic Mysteries with Online Tools and Family Histories TechShop at the Indian Valley Public Library in February, a group of middle school girls were given the history and genetic symptoms of a young patient. The goal of the workshop was to show the girls how they could use online databases such as Progeny, OMIM, and the Human Genome Browser to figure out what was going on with the patient.

Halina Saydam, who happens to be the daughter of TechGirlz’s Philadelphia Outreach Manager, was one of the TAs volunteering at the workshop. It was Halina’s first time volunteering, but she loved the experience so much that she hopes she has the chance to do it again.

Halina’s currently a high school student and she believes that her age was one thing that helped her connect with the girls taking the workshop. Since she’s just a few years older than most of the girls who participated in the TechShop, she felt like she was able to be a relatable role model figure.

During the TechShop, she talked to them about her career in high school and she encouraged the girls to keep on being interested in tech. She noted that the girls seemed eager to get started on the program and she could “tell that they wanted to dive deep and figure out the ‘mystery.'”

Working at the genetics workshop

As they worked to figure out what was going on with their patient, each of the girls took a unique approach to the problem. Halina pointed out that the different approaches did lead to several different solutions. “Each girl had a different thought as to what the real answer was,” she says. “It was cool to see how they worked with one another to connect the dots and figure out the case.”

To help get the TechShop off to a good start, Halina led the girls in an icebreaker game. They played “Would You Rather?” to get more comfortable with each other and shake away any lingering feelings of nervousness.

Halina pointed out that the icebreaker helped the girls and herself feel more at ease and it also helped to spark discussion and conversation, which was useful later on in the workshop. Her advice to any aspiring TechShop leaders or TAs is to start things off with a warm-up game or icebreaker, as it will help things run smoothly.

Interested in leading your own TechShop or working as a TA? Sign up to be a volunteer today!