Students attribute success to biomedical program
Brandon Mitchell and Maureen Leavy, both seniors at Washington County Technical High School, explain how they will use E. coli plasmids for a two-week-long lab project in their biomedical science class. (By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer)
In addition, many have received scholarships, totaling more than $500,000.
Maureen, whose home school is Hancock Middle/Senior High, said she made the decision to go to Tech High because she wanted to pursue a career in the medical field and Tech High offered more Advanced Placement classes than Hancock.
“I knew coming here would give me a leg up,” Maureen said.
She said she initially thought she wanted to study anesthesiology, but through the hands-on experiences she’s had at Tech High — building a prosthetic arm and a surgery lab suturing synthetic skin — she decided to major in biomedical engineering.
Maureen said that the Tech High lab equipment, such as gel electrophoresis, thermocyclers and microscopes, are some of the best in the state.
Maureen applied to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York and received $30,000 per year in grants and loans. Now her goal is to earn her master’s degree there through a five-year program, then get her Ph.D. before becoming a surgeon.
She said she had never heard of Rensselaer and didn’t know how to pronounce the name when she received a letter from them. They had contacted the biomedical science and pre-engineering teachers at Tech High, seeking out names of their top students.
“I’ve come to see how prestigious of a college it is and owe all of it to bio-med,” Maureen said.
She said that when visiting colleges, she learned that the rigorous national Project Lead the Way curriculum has helped Tech High students earn college credits and gain experiences that some students wouldn’t get until their sophomore years of college.
“The labs and equipment all pertain to college level. I was able to relate to college professors (during college visits). It’s definitely give me a leg up, a head start,” Maureen said.
Maureen last summer was selected for an internship teaching middle school students through Fort Detrick’s GEMS/YES program.
“People still have a mind set that this is a vo-tech, but many students are college-bound. It will prepare you more than any home school,” Maureen said.
Biomedical Science senior Brandon Mitchell, whose home school is Smithsburg, said he’ll attend James Madison University in Virginia next year.
He said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll major in biology or business, but is grateful for all he’s learned in Tech High’s Biomedical Science program.
“We’ve learned a lot of professional skills — presenting yourself, PowerPoint presentations.” He said rigor and the relevance of classes are stressed at the school.
Biomedical Science teacher Sally Irwin said her students get to use state-of-the-art equipment to do both DNA and protein electrophoresis. She said she believes Tech High is the only high school in the state of Maryland that has a thermocycler able to do polymerase chain reactions.
Students learn anatomy by building anatomically correct body parts and organs using mannequins.
“We are very fortunate to have a top-rated curriculum which allows students to learn by acquiring their own knowledge through hands-on activities, projects and problems,” Irwin wrote in an e-mail.
Irwin said although this was the second year the program was offered to students, she spent two years before that getting the program ready and recruiting students.
Tech High was one of the original pilot schools and Irwin said the State of Maryland provided considerable funding, in keeping with their push for more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.
Irwin was hired at the start of the program and attended training at Stevenson University near Baltimore, the closest PLTW affiliate. She is certified to teach all four courses in the Biomedical Science sequence. In addition, she was a lead teacher for the Medical Interventions course, which she taught at Stevenson University during the 2009 summer training session. Irwin was a curriculum writer for the Medical Interventions course and is a now a master teacher for Medical Interventions, according to a press release.
She said her students like the hands-on approach of the curriculum and all have an interest in careers in the medical field.
“I am able to accept high level students who are interested in moving on. The kids have proven themselves in terms of test scores. It’s exciting to see the things students can do in high school. To spend every other day in the last two years of high school spending six hours doing science is amazing,” Irwin said.