Science teachers devote summer vacation to boosting science education

Fred Hutch opens its labs to educators throughout the state
Dr. Nancy Hutchison, director of the Science Education Partnership

SEATTLE – July 8, 2015 – More than 21 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 25th 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 overfive 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.

2015 Science Education Partnership Participants

Digital photos of most teachers available upon request

*Denotes lead teacher (part of SEP faculty)

Philip Allen, Interlake High School

Jonathan Lundberg, Washington Youth Academy
Jen Smith, Olympic High School

Todd Dezellem, Brewster High School

Jim Christian, Colville High School

Granite Falls
Lonnie Hall, Granite Falls High School

Lake Stevens
Margaret Lewis, Lake Stevens High School

Greg Ballog,* South Whidbey High School

Mike Fellows,* Lakewood High School

Alia Lavin, Monroe High School

Nine Mile Falls
Jeana Simpson, Lakeside Middle School

Casey Pearson, Hazen High School

Susan Hoover, Eastlake High School

Marie McAllister, Arts & Academics Academy
Kim Dinh,* Chief Sealth High School
Genevieve Tremblay, Cornish College of the Arts
Dawn Rubstello,* Garfield High School
Beth Gatewood, Ingraham High School
James Herron, Ingraham High School
Karla Nyquist, RainierBeach High School
Margaux Isaman, Roosevelt High School
Leah Van More, Washington Middle School

ShawnWilson, Glacier Peak High School

Sadie Marshall, Bethel High School

Adam King, Eatonville Middle School

# # #

40 YEARS OF CURES 1975-2015

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 or YouTube.