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.