Photos by Dean Forbes
In a first-floor lab in the Weintraub Building, high school junior Ana Glassmyer and sophomore Manpreet Bassi use pipettes, hemocytometers and a centrifuge to prepare a concentration of cells, then watch how quickly they divide. The pair, along with juniors Michael Miles and Cameron Sharpe, analyze the data to determine which chambers in two new incubators provide the best environment for cell growth.
These four scientists in training are among the youngest students to work in labs on the Hutchinson Center campus. As students from the Technology Access Foundation Academy—or TAFA, a technology and science focused public school in Federal Way—they are taking part in a unique science education partnership with the Center. Since September, they've worked in a specially designed lab twice a month, studying techniques and equipment used in biomedical research and receiving the type of lab experience most students would not encounter until graduate school.
New training lab opens doors to science
Leading the partnership is Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb, a member of the Clinical Research Division. Torok-Storb obtained grant money from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to support the students, all of whom come from underserved communities. The generosity of the Center, in particular the Basic Science Division, as well as contributions from many colleagues throughout the Center helped to create the specially appointed lab in which the four students now train, she said.
“Not only did we have to find the resources, most importantly we had to find the right education partner to make this work,” Torok-Storb said. “Our goal is to encourage and support an interest in science among bright students who might not otherwise have avenues for gaining hands-on learning experiences in the field. The knowledge they gain will open many possibilities for their careers and better equip them to understand the role of science in the world around them.”
Advancing Center priorities
The program also advances the Center’s efforts to help train the next generation of scientists and increase the diversity of the biomedical work force.
The three juniors will be here one more school year and summer; the sophomore, Bassi, will stay an additional year. Torok-Storb has applied to NIH for two additional TAFA students to join the group this fall. The original four students will be involved in interviewing and selecting their successors in the program.
TAFA is located in an ethnically diverse and economically challenged area of Federal Way, where many students aren’t considered college-bound. By holding students to high academic standards and collaborating with education partners, including the Center, the high school aims to help students graduate on time and college ready.
Trish Millines Dziko, founder of TAFA and its parent organization, the Technology Access Foundation, notes the program aligns perfectly with the foundation’s goal to take learning beyond the walls of a classroom. “The students we serve might not otherwise see the inside of a working laboratory,” Dziko said. “By partnering with the Hutchinson Center, we show them what’s possible and what their future could look like.”
The academy’s multiyear program with the Center combines in-depth training and on-site lab experience in a space specially appointed by Torok-Storb to provide students with a rich learning environment.
“I like that everything is so hands-on,” said Glassmyer, who aspires to be an obstetrician. “We're doing some of the same procedures with the same tools that professional scientists do.
“It’s really interesting to see the parallels between my high school classroom, what I learn there, and how it applies in the lab. Here, I learn what it really means to be a scientist,” she said.
It didn’t take long—just a couple of months—for Torok-Storb to notice an increased maturity in her students. “They look like they belong here, and they do belong. They are more confident, more comfortable. They know the laboratory and the equipment and are eager to ask me questions,” she said.
Program provides paid summer internships
Already, the program is starting to guide and shape the students’ career plans. The program also provides paid summer internships at the Center—an opportunity all four students are taking advantage of, in ways specific to their interests:
- Glassmyer’s summer internship includes a stint assisting with administrative tasks at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance so she can see what it’s like to work in a clinical setting.
- Bassi’s wish is to focus on one new and interesting science project. For his summer internship, he’s paired with Dr. Susan Parkhurst in the Basic Sciences Division to work full time in fly genetics.
- Miles, who aspires to be an engineer, will share two internships with lab partner Sharpe. The two will split their days between the Human Biology Division labs of Dr. Katie Peichel, who works with stickleback fish, and Dr. Nina Salama, who works with the bacterium H. pylori, “to increase their exposure to different experiences,” Torok-Storb said.
“What they—and we—are coming to realize is that anything they learn in the science realm is going to contribute to their success in college and career,” she said.