Fruit Flies, Mice and Elephants

The William Tennent High School WISE (Women in Science and Engineering) club vis­it­ed Fox Chase Cancer Center on Wednesday October 26th. The over­all objec­tive of the trip was for Tennent stu­dents to meet women sci­en­tists at Fox Chase and learn about their back­ground, their path into a career in sci­ence, and their future plans. Dr. Amanda Purdy, Manager of Academic Programs and Training at Fox Chase, orga­nized the trip which includ­ed an intro­duc­tion to the his­to­ry, mis­sion and work at Fox Chase Cancer Center, includ­ing a tour of some of the labs, and end­ed with talks from four sci­en­tists at dif­fer­ent stages of their career. During the tour, stu­dents saw some of the organ­isms sci­en­tists use for their research. Dr.Purdy told the stu­dents about the “clean mice” lab at Fox Chase, and took them through a lab that uses fruit flies as mod­el organ­isms. Towards the end of our tour, they also walked through a lab used for research­ing the her­pes virus in ele­phants. The vari­ety of top­ics and organ­isms researched at Fox Chase fas­ci­nat­ed the students.

Dr. Purdy began by explain­ing the impor­tant focus areas and careers at Fox Chase; she told the stu­dents that there are even oppor­tu­ni­ties for high school stu­dents there. The first speak­er was Kimberly Branigan Colby, a sci­en­tif­ic tech­ni­cian who works in a blood cell devel­op­ment lab. Kimberly is work­ing towards her Master’s degree in Biotechnology at Temple University. The group real­ly iden­ti­fied with Kimberly who shared her deci­sion mak­ing process as a high school senior only a few years ago.


Kimberly was fol­lowed by Marie Danielle Ralff who is well-underway to earn­ing her MD/PhD degree. This was the first time most of the William Tennent stu­dents heard about this type of com­bined degree. Despite the length, inten­si­ty and chal­lenge of her pro­gram, Marie was relat­able and she made the work­load look doable. Demonstrating her pas­sion for research, Marie shared her excite­ment to inter­act with patients and to see how research has a pos­i­tive effect on the peo­ple she will be treating.

Jay Gardiner, post-doctoral fel­low at Fox Chase, and an instruc­tor in the TRIP ini­tia­tive pro­gram, con­nect­ed with the stu­dents right away. She shared her strug­gles dur­ing her fresh­man year in col­lege and gave our stu­dents valu­able and time­ly advice. It was very inter­est­ing to find out Jay changed her research focus when she arrived to Fox Chase which showed stu­dents that the process of learn­ing and adapt­ing to new cir­cum­stances nev­er ends.

The last speak­er, Daniela Di Marcantonio is also a post-doctoral fel­low at Fox Chase and was trained in Italy. Daniela shared the mul­ti­ple areas of research she has been involved with through­out her edu­ca­tion­al train­ing and it was fas­ci­nat­ing to hear how she decid­ed to focus on can­cer research.

After the last talk, stu­dents broke into groups and had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to inter­view one of the sci­en­tists, which allowed stu­dents to ask ques­tions in small­er groups and in a relaxed atmos­phere. Students remarked how valu­able this time was and came back to school with sev­er­al pearls of wis­dom. This was the sec­ond year the WISE group vis­it­ed Fox Chase and they are already look­ing for­ward to their third annu­al vis­it. The stu­dents loved the expe­ri­ence and appre­ci­at­ed the unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to spend time with and learn from sci­en­tists who are at dif­fer­ent stages of their careers. The insights gained and advice received will undoubt­ed­ly inform stu­dents’ deci­sion mak­ing as they pre­pare for col­lege and pos­si­bly, a career in science.