In a world of remote conversations, W. F. West High School students speak with confidence, showing their audience incredible return on their investment. To an audience of 14 endowment committee members joined together in a Zoom meeting, two 2020 Chehalis graduates recently presented an overview of their experience in the high school STEM program.
With a focus on the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, STEM is an approach to learning in which students develop key skills such as problem solving and creativity. In Chehalis School District, students and staff hold STEM classes in a wing of classrooms constructed in 2018 thanks to a 5.5 million dollar grant from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). On-going support for such a high quality instructional environment comes, in part, from a $1.8 million endowment from the estates of Ray and Mary Ingwersen.
Each year, a couple of students have the chance to express their appreciation for this support, and demonstrate the amazing impact of this investment. Their testimony provides some insight into just how much high schoolers can achieve when given the right circumstances. This year, Trevor and Daniel were called upon to demonstrate their growth and appreciation.
Presenting first, Trevor Jensen recounted his first experiences in the Molecular Genetics class he was able to take in his junior year. “I loved the mystery aspect of it – not knowing how or what was going to happen when you run different gels with different DNA,” said Trevor. Hoping to go into law enforcement, Trevor sees application of his experience to the identification of criminals through the understanding of DNA tracing.
“In my senior year,” Trevor went on, “We all were super pumped about starting our advanced Mol Gen project. I chose looking at zebrafish as an animal model for scleroderma, which is a disease where your hands tighten up – your skin gets extra scar tissue.” Trevor finished his project just before the virus sent everyone home. He presented his study remotely at the regional fair and the state fair, placing third at regionals and second at the state.
Trevor noted some key equipment made available to the students, including a microscope for looking at fluorescent dyes called a microinjector fluorescence microscope. “I was looking forward to putting a dye in my zebrafish to see where the disease had traveled.” He was unable to proceed with this experiment because of COVID-19. “I’d like to go back and do that,” said the 2020 graduate. “As I continue on in my schooling, hopefully I’ll find a program where I can do more science classes and get to do something like that.”
Daniel Santiago introduced himself and thanked his teacher, Mrs. Neil, for the opportunities provided at W.F. West High School. “With the installation of the STEM wing, I have various equipment installed into the STEM wing . . . a graduate student in college would get to use after many years of study. The equipment I got to use included the fumehood, which soaks up toxic gases to prevent me from breathing it in, and a real-time PCR Machine.
A Polymerase Chain Reaction machine, or “PCR” for short, is an instrument used to amplify DNA. “The PCR machine enabled me to do my own independent research on involving SLC983.2,” said Daniel, “which is a long name for a gene that’s part of a sodium hydrogen exchanging process.” The recent high school grad explained for his audience, “This just involves the acid assimilation with the zebrafish so it can regulate its own blood level acidity so it can survive in different environments.”
Daniel went on to describe the research he conducted in the Advanced Molecular Genetics class in his high school. His appreciation for the school was evident. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was just curious and started with the basic biology class . . . when this wing came into construction and I got to move into it with the chemistry classes, I knew that I wanted to be able to participate.”
This level of learning is becoming more evident with many students in Chehalis. As amazing as it may seem to outsiders, this level of study is just part of what is offered students at W.F. West, and it provides evidence for donors that their investments are paying off.
The Ingwersen STEM Endowment is just one project of the Chehalis Foundation in partnership with the school Chehalis School District. With a goal to “inspire and better prepare our kids for higher educational opportunities and to be creative thinkers,” the foundation works to promote educational excellence in the schools. “Our community of individuals and business donors, along with various grants and other foundation support has provided approximately $8 million in support of our project,” reports the Chehalis Foundation on their website.
Each year, the Ingwersen Endowment Committee meets to receive an update on progress made in STEM programs at W.F. West. The eight member team contracts with Security State Bank for financial management services. Each year since 2012, between $75,000 and $86,000 has been distributed from earnings from the trust.
The committee met for about 40 minutes for their annual update. After Principal Bob Walters provided an overview of the STEM programs, Assistant Principal Tommy Elder presented a proposed budget for the 2020-2021 school year. A check for $89,388 will help fund the Molecular Genetics class, Cell Culture, Bio Technology, Robotics, and Advanced STEM courses. In addition, when they can learn in-person, Chehalis students take field trips and celebrate STEM at a day camp. For those who pursue STEM as a post high school interest, there are several Ingwersen scholarships awarded at graduation.
This year, the presentations by Trevor and Daniel confirmed for committee members that their investment is paying off. The general consensus was that the annual award of financial support was having the impact hoped for. “I am amazed at the high level of research that our students are able to do,” says Principal Bob Walters. “I believe W.F. West students have an incredible opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology. We are so thankful for the support for the Ingwersen endowment, the Smith family endowment, and the Chehalis Foundation.”