Fischell Researchers, Wheaton High School Host Second-Annual Symposium to Foster Bioengineering Education

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On May 28, Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BioE) researchers teamed up with faculty and students from Wheaton High School of Silver Spring, Md., to host the second annual Program to Enhance Participation in Research (PEPR) Poster Symposium and Reception.

Held in the Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building at the University of Maryland campus in College Park, Md., the PEPR Symposium caps off a yearlong opportunity established for Wheaton’s Bioscience Magnet Program. Through PEPR, students learn about the research process by focusing on a bioengineering topic of their choosing. To further their efforts, each program participant is partnered with a Fischell student or postdoctoral mentor, and tasked with interviewing experts, reading scientific literature, and writing a review article.  

BioE Assistant Professor and Damon Runyon-Rachleff Innovator Dr. Christopher Jewell created the PEPR program as part of his National Science Foundation CAREER Award. PEPR kicked off in 2013 and, this year, two dozen students from the Wheaton High School Biosciences Magnet Program enrolled.

PEPR provides each student with a unique chance to delve into bioengineering topics and get a first taste of science and engineering career through a yearlong research and mentoring program, Jewell said.

“The reason I started this program, along with great collaborators at Wheaton High School, is because it is really important to provide new kinds of exposure for students to get involved with science, engineering and mathematics,” Jewell told symposium attendees. “In the beginning of the academic year, we pair up all the students in the Bioscience Magnet Program at Wheaton with a mentor from the Clark School of Engineering – a graduate student or a postdoctoral researcher. Throughout the year, PEPR students work with a topic that interests them. They cover such a huge range of topics – and that’s one of the really fun things we have seen in doing this program.”

In addition to working with a BioE mentor, each of the PEPR students has the opportunity to take part in more than 10 workshops throughout the year covering areas such as how to present different topics and how to analyze data.

“PEPR students are learning skills that are going to be important no matter what they might pursue as they move on,” Jewell said.

Each of this year’s 24 PEPR students gathered for the May symposium to present their research posters and answer questions about their chosen topics, which ranged from the effects of sports on the body’s biomechanics, and social diagnostics, to gene therapy, and the American diet.

“I have been on this job for less than a year and, in my first week in this position, I met Dr. Jewell and I sat down with Heather Carias (Wheaton High School Assistant Principal), Catherine Sobieszczyk (Wheaton High School Advanced Placement Biology Teacher) and Talia Turner (Wheaton High School Bioscience Academy Leader), and the four of them and their vision really blew me away,” said Ellisa Earley-Hidalgo, Academy and Applications Program Coordinator for Wheaton High School. “I just have to thank them. What has happened with PEPR in just its second year – that doesn’t just pop up and happen on its own. That kind of success takes a great deal of planning, coordination and communication, and it’s been made possible because of those four people and their vision to really inspire our students at the 10th grade level to do amazing research and build a rigorous program with the mentors from the University of Maryland.

“The mentors have worked really hard with the students to build the students' capacity even beyond what they presented on their posters [at the symposium],” Earley-Hidalgo continued, noting that Wheaton High School’s partnership with the Fischell Department of Bioengineering is one through which the high school hopes to get students thinking about college and career-building early.

Both Jewell and Earley-Hidalgo also noted that the PEPR program is growing, and they expect the 2016 class to be even bigger than the previous two.

This year’s Fischell PEPR mentors were: Katrina Adlerz, James Andorko, Navein Arumugasaamy, George Banis, Adam Behrens, Dr. Yu-Chieh Chiu, Neil Dold, Joshua Gammon, Kelsey Gray, Krystina Hess, Svetlana Ikonomova, Anjana Jeyaram, Parisa Moghaddam-Taaheri, Imaly Nanayakkara, Hieu Nguyen, Divya Patel, John Schardt, Poonam Sharma, Marina Shumakovich, Kristina Stephens, Dr. Ashlee Tipton, Leopoldo Torres, Lisa Tostanoski, and Dr. Peipei Zhang.



Published June 1, 2015