Not every high schooler in Washington state hopes to develop a rapid test for detecting the Nipah virus, but that’s exactly what W. F. West senior, Claire Kuykendal reported last week during the annual meeting of the Ingwersen Trust Committee. In her Advanced Molecular Genetics class, her research is allowing her to work towards creating a paper test strip, in which a fluorescent indicator will indicate Nipah virus presence – this in lieu of a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Many of us have waited for COVID results using a similar PCR test. Claire’s project titled, Lateral Flow Gold Nanoparticle-Based Nipah Virus Test Strip, will someday allow physicians to know if a patient is infected with the Nipah virus without relying on using expensive and time-consuming PCR machines. 

That’s the kind of student work we see at W. F. West High School. Thanks to generous donations from community members, Chehalis School District can offer advanced science classes in the STEM wing built just a few years ago. In this wing, and in these advanced classes, students like Claire are conducting research typically seen in post-secondary studies.

The Ingwersen Trust Committee is very interested in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities that take place in Chehalis. Members include alumni like Kevin Smith, and Jim Lintott; district personnel like Superintendent Christine Moloney; and members of the Chehalis Foundation, including executive director Jenny Collins. A full list of those attending the annual meeting is at the end of this story.

The annual meeting provides members a chance to hear about how the financial donations are being spent, and the agenda included an overview of STEM activities presented by the district’s K-12 STEM Coordinator, Lynn Panther.

Panther shared how encouraging it has been to bring back events that had been postponed due to the pandemic. During the recent Fifth-grade STEM Day at Orin Smith Elementary, she heard her colleagues look at the mass of elementary students filled with joy and excitement and share, “This is why we do this.”

In addition to Fifth-grade STEM Day, the district has recently hosted Bio-Tech Day – a special day for high school students which included special guest speakers from the University of Washington. “We are bringing it all back incrementally,” said Panther.  “Charter buses are being booked for field trips, and we are planning a new event, the first annual STEM Expo for some time in May.”

At the STEM Expo, Advanced Science students will showcase their work from this school year. Next spring, the plan is to include the entire student body. The hope is for judges from the UW to come help recognize students for their STEM work. Scholarships are also being planned for the event.

Committee members heard from other W. F West students as well. Amelia Etue shared about her project titled, “Alzheimer’s Study: Inducing the APOE Gene using Colchicine in Zebrafish Embryos.” She also shared her satisfaction in working with elementary students in gathering samples for the scanning electron microscope (SEM). Panther’s hope is that when elementary students work with high schoolers on STEM projects, they will look forward to taking the classes themselves when they get older.

Henry Jordan has taken a variety of advanced STEM classes but provided a report on his recent involvement with the Robotics Club. The team is looking forward to competing again. At a previous competition, the team created a robot that could hook its arm on something and lift itself into the air – one of the competition requirements. Henry also reported on some time spent in Alaska last year earning his fixed-wing pilot’s license. He plans to get his helicopter license after school.

Committee members were pleased with the STEM reports and pleased to be supporting such advanced educational opportunities. Donors asked a few questions and were happy to learn all that was taking place.

The Ingwersen Trust was formed thanks to a couple of special donors: Ray and Mary Ingwersen. In 2013, the Chehalis Foundation received $1.8 million as an endowment from the Ingwersen estates. The gift is to be used to enhance STEM education programs at W. F. West High School.

The Foundation created a subcommittee to manage the endowment as a permanent trust. Interest and earnings are used each year to fund STEM needs. For the 2022-2023 school year, a budget of $130,000 was approved.

The students, teachers, and families of Chehalis are fortunate to have the support of donors such as the Ingwersens, and the ongoing oversight of members of the Ingwersen Trust Committee. Those attending this year’s annual meeting included: Mike Alexander, Jenny Collins, Tommy Elder, Brian Fox, Rick Goble, Jessica Homyack, Jim Lintott, Christine Moloney, Lynn Panther, Kevin Smith, Trisha Smith, J Vander Stoep, Bob Walters, and W.F. West student presenters.