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Science teachers dedicate summer vacation to improving science education Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center

Fred Hutch opens its labs to 20 science educators from throughout the state
Science Education Partnership participant Melissa Baker with mentor Dr. Matthias Stephan
Science Education Partnership participant Melissa Baker with mentor Dr. Matthias Stephan. Bo Jungmayer/Fred Hutch file

SEATTLE – July 11, 2014 – More than 20 science teachers from communities across Washington are spending part of their summer vacation at “school,” working beside scientists in research laboratories at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and partner sites throughout Seattle.  Now in its 24th year, Fred Hutch’s Science Education Partnership, or SEP, provides local teachers with the opportunity to expand their science knowledge and curriculum with hands on training in Fred Hutch’s and partnering institution’s research labs.

“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 SEP. “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 health care issues, and making them better-informed and more capable citizens.”

The entire SEP summer program takes place over a 16-day period in July. Teachers will receive a jumpstart session to learn laboratory basics and then 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.

Mentors are key to the success of this program, each donating over 5 full days’ worth of time to train science teachers. Often, mentorships 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 other half of the educators’ time will be spent in the Teaching Laboratory at Fred Hutch, 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.

“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.”

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.

The learning does not stop when summer ends. Fred Hutch’s SEP program provides access to learning all year long with the SEP’s science-kit loan program. 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 and are available on an ongoing basis to all participating teachers.

“We send out the real thing; these are not kids’ toys,” Hutchison said. The kits, costing up to $10,000 each, are 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.

“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.

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.”

Since the Science Education Partnership began in 1991, more than 450 teachers have participated and the program has touched the lives of more than 300,000 students.

The program is funded partly through private supporters and by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

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

2014 Science Education Partnership Participants
Digital photos of most teachers available upon request
*Denotes lead teacher (part of SEP faculty)


Kami Bohlinger, Newport High School

Cooper Hatton, Newport High School


Frieda Fuhrmann, Burlington-Edison High School

Everett/Mill Creek

Thomas Wier, Archbishop T.J. Murphy High School

Aimee Sage, Cascade High School

Candace McKeen-Hollingsworth, Mariner High School


Rama Devagupta, Southridge High School


Esther Munoz, Kent Phoenix Academy

Connie Franks,* Mill Creek Middle School


Amy Hoffman, Kingston High School


Judy Barrere, Holy Family Kirkland

Lake Stevens

Jon Dufay, Lake Stevens High School


Greg Ballog,* South Whidbey High School


Mike Fellows,* Lakewood High School

Mercer Island

Julia DeBroux, Mercer Island High School

Mill Creek

Beverly Robertson, Henry M. Jackson High School


Eileen Kennedy, Hanford High School


Jason Glover, Chief Sealth High School

Dawn Rubstello,* Garfield High School

Sarah Louie, Seattle Lutheran High School

Kristen Tordillos, Seattle Preparatory School

Alisan Tucker-Giesy, Shorewood High School


Alicia Arnold, Shorecrest High School


William Baur, Stewart Middle School

Editor’s note: For more information or to arrange an interview or lab visit, please contact Michael Nank, 206-667-6096 or Digital photos of most teachers are available upon request.

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At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, home to three Nobel laureates, interdisciplinary teams of world-renowned scientists seek new and innovative ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. Fred Hutch’s pioneering work in bone marrow transplantation led to the development of immunotherapy, which harnesses the power of the immune system to treat cancer with minimal side effects. An independent, nonprofit research institute based in Seattle, Fred Hutch houses the nation’s first and largest cancer prevention research program, as well as the clinical coordinating center of the Women’s Health Initiative and the international headquarters of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. Private contributions are essential for enabling Fred Hutch scientists to explore novel research opportunities that lead to important medical breakthroughs. For more information visit or follow Fred Hutch on FacebookTwitter orYouTube.