ISCRM Travels to Chehalis for STEM Camp

Researchers in purple shirts pose around a sign
Some of the more than 40 ISCRM faculty, students, and staff who helped lead a two-day summer STEM camp in Chehalis, Washington.

In August of 2018, a group of science-minded high school students took part in a two-day STEM camp focused on human biology, biotechnology, genetics, and other topics related to regenerative medicine.

The camp, which was led by faculty and graduates from labs affiliated with the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine (ISCRM), took place in the new STEM wing at W.F. West High School – the program and facility had been strongly backed by Orin Smith, the former UW Regent whose generous gifts have supported the launch of ISCRM and sustained its growth over the last ten years.

a researcher and two high school students
ISCRM faculty member Laura Crisa, PhD leads an interactive lesson focused on the pancreas and type 1 diabetes

At the time of the STEM Camp, Lynn Panther, a teacher on special assignment for the Chehalis School District, spoke to the importance of the relationship.  “This partnership with the University of Washington has been an amazing experience for kids from the whole region. 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.”

A researcher shows organs to high school students
ISCRM Director Chuck Murry leads a hands-on introduction to human organs, including heart, brain, and lung tissue.

Over the ensuing two years, W.F. West students had opportunities to visit ISCRM Labs in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, while ISCRM ambassadors helped the school with a Zebrafish research program inspired by the ISCRM Aquatics Core.

“As a state-funded institute, community engagement is a central part of our mission,” said ISCRM Director Dr. Chuck Murry. “We are grateful to W.F. West High School and the Chehalis Foundation for the opportunity to share our love of science and research with so many impressive, inquisitive young people. Seeing the thrill of discovery at work reminds me why I became a scientist in the first place. My hope is that we’ve inspired future scientists who will follow us into the field.”

Returning to Chehalis

The friendship between W.F. High School and ISCRM continued in August 2022, when more than 45 ISCRM faculty, students, and staff traveled to Chehalis to lead two days of a UW STEM camp offered to more than 50 Lewis County high school students.

The first day of the camp featured interactive experiences focused on organs and systems, including the heart, brain, and lungs, kidney chips and organoids, blood vessels, the neuromuscular system, and the pancreas. On the second day, students explored biotechnology topics, including CRISPR gene-editing, epigenetics, zebrafish, computational medicine, biomaterials, and measuring cardiac force.

Students at a row of laptops
Graduate student Justin Lee leads a module in which high school students learn how researchers use computer technology to solve biomedical problems.

During lunch, STEM camp participants and ISCRM scientists sat together for small-group, casual conversations about researcher careers. “I think it’s a really cool new experience because it’s not like anything I’ve done before and I get to learn about more career paths and opportunities for the future,” said Bryce Kuykendall, a 16-year-old student at W.F. West, to the Chronicle.

“I’m really interested in research,” added Maile, a rising sophomore.  “But I don’t really know how to get into it. So I thought this would be a good way to learn.”

Elected Officials Visit STEM Camp

The high school participants were the only people impressed with the camp. Three elected officials from Washington State’s 20th Legislative District, including Sen. John Braun, Rep. Peter Abbarno, and Rep. Ed Orcutt, visited W.F. West High School during the first day.

People in gowns around a lab table
Sen. Braun, second from left, watches as students inflate pig lungs to simulate breathing. Photo: Chehalis Chronicle

“The STEM camp is an amazing educational experience for our local students and is the product of a very partnership,” Rep. Abbarno told the Chronicle. “The program ignites passion in our students for science, technology, engineering and mathematics that helps cultivate a lifetime of learning and exploration. This is exactly the type of program we want to support and replicate across the state.”

“This STEM camp is a great opportunity for student learning — and if that was all it did, it would provide tremendous benefit to the students,” Orcutt said. “But it also gives students introduction and insight into potential career opportunities and builds excitement into the possibilities of following one of those career paths. The classes we saw today will not only benefit students in choosing education and career paths, but when they choose one of these career paths, it can lead also to advancement of healthcare and increased availability of healthcare professionals — a benefit to everyone.”