When Barb Schulz met Dr. Nancy Hutchison, who was at the time a molecular biologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Schulz had been a high school biology teacher for 20 years.
But Hutchison was the first practicing scientist she’d ever met.
Schulz didn’t let that 1989 meeting, which was almost a chance occurrence, go by quietly. The next day, she called Hutchison to ask if she had any spare frog eggs that Schulz’s students could use for an experiment. And soon after, Schulz asked if one of her Shoreline, Washington, high school students could spend the summer interning in Hutchison’s lab. During that summer, Schulz visited the Hutch to see what her student was up to.
“I saw what the student was doing and I said, ‘Move over and let me do it too,’” said Schulz, who is now retired from teaching and lives in Sisters, Oregon. “And one thing led to another and we talked about, wouldn’t it be more effective if instead of taking a student she would take a teacher?”
And the rest, as Schulz said, was history — more than two decades of history, as the Hutch’s Science Education Partnership that she and Hutchison later founded marks its 25th anniversary this year. Hutchison, Schulz and their colleagues in education and research got SEP off the ground shortly after that summer internship, launching a program to give Washington state high school and middle school science teachers access to cutting-edge biology knowledge, techniques, materials and equipment.
The program, which has worked with approximately 500 Washington science teachers since its inception, is like a science boot camp for teachers. They attend an intensive, hands-on training session at the Hutch during the summer, after which they pair up with individual Hutch researchers to conduct experiments and learn new techniques in those researchers’ labs. By the end, the teachers develop new experiments and teaching segments for their classes. The program also loans out science kits throughout the school year for SEP teachers to use in their classrooms.
The “partnership” piece of SEP is its most critical component, said Hutchison, who’s been the program’s director since it came into existence. Hutchison is retiring next month after a 34-year career at the Hutch. Jeanne Chowning, an early SEP participant and currently associate executive director at Rainier Scholars, will take the reins in mid-October.
“This piece, the partnership, seemed really important from the get-go — working together with teachers, not trying to ‘fix’ teachers, but really working together,” Hutchison said. “Scientists have a huge amount to learn about how to be better communicators and teachers.”