Science teachers join labs for summer at Fred Hutch - Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

More than 20 science educators from throughout the state are participating
Photo of Dr. Nancy Hutchison
Dr. Nancy Hutchison, director of the Science Education Partnership

SEATTLE – July 16, 2013 – More than 20 science teachers from communities across Washington are spending part of their vacation at “summer school,” working beside scientists in research laboratories at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and several other partner sites throughout Seattle. The summer workshop will run through the end of July.

“Our goal is for teachers to bring back what they learn over the summer to help jump-start their students’ knowledge of bioscience and research and perhaps kindle their interest in jobs or careers in science,” said Nancy Hutchison, Ph.D., director of the Hutchinson Center’s Science Education Partnership, or SEP, program, now in its 23rd year. “Even if the students don’t go into science professionally, having a solid basis in science makes it possible for them to make informed decisions about scientific matters like understanding their health care issues, and it helps make them better-informed and more capable citizens.”

Working in labs at Fred Hutch and partnering local academic research institutions and biotechnology firms, this year’s cadre of teachers will begin as students, learning concepts and techniques before they join the research scientists in the labs.

“Learning science is like learning a foreign language,” Hutchison said. “By participating in the Science Education Partnership, teachers explore a foreign country; they get immersed. After a couple of weeks, they have begun to think like the ‘locals’ and see how the research culture really works,” she said. “As a result, their students gain a better understanding of what science really is and how it influences their daily lives.”

Participating institutions this year, in addition to Fred Hutch, include the corporate biotechnology firm Amgen, as well as Seattle Children’s Research Institute, Seattle BioMed, the University of Washington Genome Sciences Department and the joint UW/Hutchinson Center Molecular and Cellular Biology doctoral research program.

After a jumpstart session to learn laboratory basics, the teachers will spend about half of their time working one-on-one with a scientist-mentor in a research laboratory on projects tailored to their interests. Lab work during the past several years has focused on such topics as protein structure, stem cells, gene regulation, yeast genetics and fruit-fly development. This mentorship can extend beyond the summer session to include classroom visits by scientists during the school year.

“Many of our mentors have a sense of wanting to give something back to the community; this is a great chance for them to do that,” Hutchison said. The program also gives the scientists a chance to improve their own communication and teaching skills by learning from the teachers.

The other half of the educators’ time will be spent in the Teaching Laboratory at the Hutchinson Center, where they will work as a group with Lead Teachers – master teachers experienced with SEP – focusing on effective ways to use scientific concepts and techniques in the classroom and refining curricula for the coming school year.

Key to their planning is access to SEP’s science-kit loan program, which is available on an ongoing basis to all teachers who participate in the initial yearlong program. The kits, assembled and maintained at Fred Hutch, contain all the equipment necessary for experiments in such areas as DNA gel electrophoresis, bacterial transformation and detection of avian flu.

“Each new group of teachers coming into SEP directly influences about 3,000 students annually,” said SEP director Hutchison. Combined with ongoing participants’ use, last year more than 130 teachers and 14,000 Washington students worked with one or more SEP kits in their science classes.

“We send out the real thing; these are not kids’ toys,” Hutchison said. The kits, costing up to $10,000 each, come in bright green crates filled with supplies that range from the exotic (microcentrifuges) to the mundane (plastic wrap, meat tenderizer, dishwashing detergent).

SEP also provides teachers with:

  • surplus lab supplies that have been donated by labs from throughout the research community;
  • a resource library from which to borrow the latest teaching tools, including textbooks, posters, models, and DVDs; and
  • a $500 stipend and graduate-level credit through the University of Washington.

For many participants, the Science Education Partnership is a unique opportunity to meet people who do the science behind what they teach their students. “Before SEP I had never met a practicing research scientist,” said one recent participant. “I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a venue for science teachers to meet and work with research scientists.”

For others, the summer program is a rare chance to work with other teachers in their field. “We’re a one-high-school town, and I’m the one biology teacher, so I don’t have many other teachers to interact with,” said another participant. “Through SEP, I’ve built quite a community of other teachers across the state.” This sense of community extends beyond the duration of the summer program as well. “Once you’re an SEP teacher, you’re always an SEP teacher,” said Hutchison. “Some teachers who participated in previous years return to Fred Hutchinson as lead teachers to help with the program while others come simply to meet up again with contacts they made when they were here.”

But perhaps most important, the program encourages teachers – many of whom haven’t been in a laboratory since college – to sharpen their critical thinking, questioning and problem-solving skills. In short: to teach outside the box.

Since the Science Education Partnership began in 1991, more than 425 teachers have participated and the program has touched the lives of more than 300,000 students.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center funds the program.

Editor’s note: For more information or to arrange an interview or lab visit, please contact Kristen Woodward, 206-667-2210 or Digital photos of most teachers are available upon request.

Kristen Woodward


Digital photos of most teachers available upon request

*Denotes lead teacher (part of SEP faculty)

Melissa Baker, Newport High School

Alicia Romero, Phoenix Academy

Marina Orobinskaia, Puget Sound Skills Center
Dawn Tessandore, Highline High School

Everett/Mill Creek
Cindy McIntyre,* Everett High School
Gail Walters, Henry M. Jackson High School
Gail Wellenstein, Archbishop T. J. Murphy High School

Federal Way
Christine Ha, Federal Way Senior High School
Olga Mashnitskaya, Technology Access Foundation Academy

Gig Harbor
Jennifer Prince, Peninsula High School

Beth Stewart,* Inglemoor High School

Renee Poitras, Kent-Meridian High School

Mike Fellows,* Lakewood High School

Mountlake Terrace
Adam Welman, Mountlake Terrace High School

Nancy Ridenour, Omak High School

Alfred Sidman, Renton High School

Jyoti Bawa, Renaissance School of Art and Reasoning

Rebecca Michener, Global Connections High School

Michaela Peterson, The Center School
Kyrsten Pratt, Cleveland High School
MaryMargaret Welch,* Seattle Public Schools (district science coach)
Louise Wong, Rainier Beach High School

Caroline Mann, Shorewood High School

Jean Ingersoll,* Glacier Peak High School

Tracyanne Roberts, Mount Si High School

Kaitlin Maile, Sultan High School

Gordon Sprinker, Stadium High School

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