Bioengineering Bootcamp provides high school students with hands-on experience

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Organized by Stanford undergraduate Stephanie Young ’14, the Bioengineering Bootcamp — held at Stanford this summer for the first time — introduced high school students to the bioengineering field through research presentations given by Stanford professors and graduate students as well as hands-on projects. Young’s idea for orchestrating a bioengineering-themed program stemmed from last summer, when she talked with a friend who was coordinating a high school debate camp.

“Bioengineering is one of those fields that need talent, so why not have a high school program where you can introduce kids to BioE, give them a taste of what it’s like, let them figure out early what they want to pursue and bring them to Stanford for resources,” Young said.

According to Young, the idea didn’t come together until last spring quarter. She worked closely with another undergraduate Ken Xiong ’13, a few graduate students — Midori Greenwood-Goodwin M.S./Ph.D. ’14 and Sasha Denisin Ph.D. ’17 — and a Berkeley undergraduate, Jacqueline Young. Stephanie Young pitched the idea of a bioengineering camp to a number of faculty members in the bioengineering department, who recommended that she talk to Norbert Pelc, the chair of the Department of Bioengineering.

Young and the camp organizers were pleasantly surprised when Pelc supported the idea.

“We got help to get access to a lot of resources — the campus really came together,” Young said. “It was 100 percent free for all the students and the BioE department sponsored the whole project.”

“I was definitely very surprised by the resources Stanford was able to provide us — the attention that Stanford was willing to give us — and that [the department] was willing to work closely with us and with a flexible budget,” added Jacqueline Young, a sophomore at Berkeley.

Stephanie Young reported the final plan of the bootcamp was “completely and drastically different” from what the organizers had envisioned in the beginning.

“Our plans were mainly motivated by what we thought students would benefit most from,” Young said. “I have my idea about how to do it, but my ideas resolve as I talk to people more…The camp’s content was really a condensation of a lot of people’s brain power.”

After the groundwork for the camp was built, the BioE Bootcamp team had to find its students by reaching out to Bay Area schools. High school teachers were encouraged to nominate one of their students to apply for the bootcamp, and the program organizers eventually accepted 27 students, 26 of whom attended.

Students were grouped into teams that tackled six various projects, which were selected and refined from a pool of “problem statements” brainstormed by the program organizers themselves or by the high school students. These included designing devices for drug delivery, the diagnosis of sleep apnea and mobilizing diagnostic equipment, such as a CT scanner.

“Our group went through our needs statement and did some background research, and we connected through Facebook so we could have more discussions outside of the bootcamp,” wrote Katherine Liu, a senior at Los Altos High School, in her Tumblr blog about the first day of the camp.

The students commuted to the Stanford campus, meeting once a week over six consecutive weeks. The morning was content-driven, featuring different professors and graduate students’ research as well as demos where students were able to get hands-on experience in the lab. The afternoon sessions focused on the students’ group projects, discussions with mentors and work in the Product Realization Lab.

“For a pilot program, this camp was pretty darn successful,” said Stephanie Young, who hopes that the camp will continue on a yearly basis. “Now people know about the camp, the stage is set and we know what worked well and what didn’t work well in the curriculum.”

Anticipating the construction of the new Bioengineering and Chemical Engineering Building, Young hopes that the bootcamp will provide even more resources to students, reach students from different areas and possibly hire a staff next year.

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Catherine Zaw was formerly the Managing Editor of News for Vol. 245 and Vol. 246. To contact her, please email [email protected]