More than 40 researchers and UW Medicine volunteers representing 19 labs gave aspiring Lewis County high school students a glimpse into the world of cutting-edge  biomedical research in August at a STEM Camp held at W.F. West High School and in UW Medicine labs in Seattle. The camp is funded by the Chehalis Foundation.

In the second week of a two-week STEM Camp held at W.F. West High School’s new STEM Wing, researchers from the UW Medicine Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM) gave over 40 high school students from local schools a first-hand look at the world of regenerative medicine, gene therapy, and the basic sciences behind UW Medicine’s world-leading research. The experience at W.F West included a visit from U.S. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, who spoke with students and researchers during the first day of the program. “There was nothing like this when I was in high school. This is a great opportunity for local high schoolers to be exposed to college level learning early-on,” said Congresswoman Herrera Beutler.

Dr. Charles Murry, Director of the Institute, led the effort behind UW Medicine’s involvement in the STEM Camp. “Outreach is a critical part of our mission at the Institute,” said Dr. Murry, who delivered a lesson in which students were able to examine actual human organs. “Taking part in the STEM Summer Camp is a golden opportunity for our faculty and graduate students to get the  next generation of scientists excited about science and to help them discover multiple pathways to careers in research and medicine.”

In all, the students from Chehalis had a three-day experience with UW researchers. Over two days at W.F. West High School’s new STEM wing, the participants rotated through interactive stations focused on topics spanning heart, kidney, and liver functioning, the wonders of neuromuscular and digestive systems, and the applications of genetic medicine for diagnosing, treating, and curing diseases. On the third day, the students traveled to Seattle for a visit to the Allen Institute and a tour of the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine.

Nisa Penland, a UW PhD student in Bioengineering, led a workshop that helped students understand the process of gene editing. “It was very rewarding to give back when these students are so primed to become scientists or medical doctors,” said Penland. “There were certain light bulbs that went off when they connected ideas with each other that they’ve been reading about in their textbooks. Just teaching them for two days made me learn more about the work I do in my own lab.”

Students were very impressed with the opportunity to work with actual organs, and to learn about pathology and their own bodies. A sophomore participant  believes that STEM fields offer a promising future. When asked about programs like this camp, he said they “introduce me, get me on that path. Without these, I wouldn’t know where to start or how to go do this by myself. They definitely help.”

Involving the UW research scientists in the summer STEM camp was a way to enhance a program that has grown over the last five years. “This partnership with the University of Washington has been an amazing experience for kids from the whole region,” said Lynn Panther, Teacher on Special Assignment for the Chehalis School District. “My hope is that learning from UW researchers and scientists will spark an interest in science, open their minds to opportunities they wouldn’t have known about, and show them that they can do these jobs too.”