Steadman Philippon Research Institute gives Vail students a rare window into medical science |

Steadman Philippon Research Institute gives Vail students a rare window into medical science

From left, Maddy Cooper, of Vail Mountain School, and Katie Smith and Alessie Acosta, of Eagle Valley High School, were among the students who were encouraged to "imagine, invent and inspire" through the Steadman Philippon Research Institute's EPOC research program.
Steadman Philippon Research Institute


The EPOC program lasted the duration of the academic school year and wrapped up on Wednesday, April 11. Due to the popularity of the program and the fact that many aspiring medical science students can’t fit it in during the school year, the program will expand to include a summer component this year.

“It’s meant to be a year-long science club, squeezed into a week,” said Travis Turnbull, a senior engineer and scientist at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute who helps organize the program. “So it will be super intensive, but it will allow people who are involved in other extracurricular activities during the school year to participate.”

VAIL — There aren’t many places in the United States where schools have access to a cutting-edge medical research facility.

Students from five local high schools presented their year-long research projects to staff and community members at the Steadman Philippon Research Institute in Vail on Wednesday, April 11.

The research project program started seven years ago when Senenne Philippon sought to bridge the gap between the world-renowned laboratories at the research institute and any students in the community who may have an interest in medical science.

Thus the science club idea, now known as the EPOC program, was born. Science teachers from local high schools each select one team of two students to partner up with mentor scientists at the research institute to complete a medical research project.

Ross Sappenfield, with the Vail Mountain School science department, said narrowing down his choice of who would represent his school wasn’t easy this year, as many kids in the community are attracted to medical science.

“There’s not a whole lot of opportunities for students to participate in the medical sciences, and this allows them to have a hands-on experience with true experimentation,” Sappenfield said. “It allows them a chance to do an inspired research project where there are not constraints in what they’re allowed to do.”


A few of the topics from this year included “Risk of Anterior Cruciate Ligament Injuries in Movements Performed by Football Players,” by Camille Chicoine and Jasmine Hartman Budnik from Vail Christian High School; “Hip Strength/Flexibility and Back Pain in Relation to Alpine Skiers,” by Avery Leonard and Sabrina Sutter from Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy; and “Rear Foot Angle and Navicular Drop in Male High School Long Distance Track Runners in Training Shoes and Racing Spikes,” by Alessie Acosta and Katie Smith from Eagle Valley High School.

Sappenfield said a side benefit he has noticed about the program is the enjoyment the students receive from working side by side with professionals in the field of science.

“The fact that (the Steadman Philippon Research Institute) gives each pair of kids two to three mentors to form a team around is amazing,” Sappenfield said. “The mentors are at different points around their careers — some are headed off to med school, some are headed off to post-doc appointments somewhere — they bring a wealth of knowledge and excitement about science, so that’s inspiring.

“It’s almost a level playing field with people who are well along in their careers, and I think that’s also empowering and makes the kids feel like they can do this.”

Vail Mountain School student Maddy Cooper presented a study on long-distance running titled “Repetitive Tibial Loading: Simulating Marathon Conditions and Investigating the Implications.”

Cooper’s mentors were research assistant Alex Grady and robotics engineer Bryson Kemler.

“The tests she was doing were like 4 1/2, five hours long,” Grady said. “You really are blown away by how high level it is. Maddy herself was in training, so she would train from 5 to 8 p.m. and then come in after that. Seeing that kind of dedication shows you she’s a really special high school student.”


Kemler has been volunteering as a mentor to students working on research projects for the past three years. He said watching the students progress as they start to find their own careers has been rewarding.

“We had a kid who was able to come back after EPOC for a summer and work with us on developing stuff,” Kemler said. “Seeing the impact we had on him was inspiring and made me want to continue to volunteer.”

Many of the students enter EPOC interested in medical science and leave the program determined to enter the field.

“I had such a fun time doing the experiments,” said Battle Mountain High School junior Claire Krueger, 17, who joined classmate Ryan Dawsey for a study titled “Biomechanical Properties of Human Knee Tendons.”

“A lot of the mentors, that’s what they’re doing at (the Steadman Philippon Research Institute) — experimenting on things that not a lot of people in the world will get to do,” Krueger said. “I think that would be such a cool experience to have.”

Claire Krueger’s father, John Krueger, grew up in Eagle County, as well, and said it has been surprising to see how much of an education his daughter has already received in medical science.

“My wife and I are not in the medical field at all, and yet our daughter has been exposed to it completely,” he said. “She’s interested in biomedical engineering, and for her to be able to do her own study, only in the biggest and best places in the world would that happen.”

Vail Daily reporter John Laconte can be reached at