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Steadman Institute works with Vail Valley kids on scientific research projects

The Steadman Philippon Research Institute's education and public outreach program director Travis Turnbull said the subjects examined by local high school students participating in this year's outreach program were similar to what you might find being studied by the medical grad school students.
Special to the Daily |

VAIL — Amazing things can happen when you expose young minds to the latest in scientific technology.

Addressing futuristic topics and ground-breaking ideas, students from local high schools presented a semester’s worth of research to the Steadman Philippon Research Institute earlier this month as part of the institute’s education and outreach program.

Senenne Philippon is the chair of the program. It was her idea to allow local students to access the institute’s facilities, and the minds behind them, working in conjunction with their respective schools on semester-long research projects.

“It started six years ago when we brought a group in for a presentation, we were doing a tour and one of the attendees said to me ‘I wish my daughter was here with me today,’” Philippon recalls. “She had an interest in science when she was younger, and her daughter had an interest in science as well. I went to our CEO and said we have this great resource here — with doctors and scientists, engineers — we should be sharing this with the community. He said, ‘I did a tour of something like this when I was in high school, and I think that might have sparked my interest.’”

“And that’s what the spring semester project has evolved into for these students, a passion project. You’re not going to find success without doing something you’re passionate about.”Travis TurnbullProgram director

GRAD STUDENT LEVEL

Philippon got the green light to start the outreach program in 2011.

“Two years in we started getting high schoolers involved through a science club, where the science teachers select two kids from each school,” she said at the final presentation on April 12. “I asked our staff if anyone wanted to help, and we had more than 20 staff members show up. I was amazed. They put together various scientific projects for throughout the year, and this was the final presentation for this year.”

The subjects examined were similar to what you might find being studied by medical graduate school students of today, program director Travis Turnbull said.

Emma Calcaro and Trace Landreth, from Vail Mountain School, studied the effects of ACL reconstruction bone tunneling on the structural integrity of the tibia.

Taylor Brandt and Maddox Gayer, from Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy, came up with a measuring system for mental toughness and examined it alongside skiing performance and injury rate.

Ashlyn Laidman and Brennecke Gale, of Eagle Valley High School, helped cross-country runners on their track team shave time off their final laps by engaging in a biomechanical analysis of minimum hip angle and knee extension at toe off between sprinters and distance runners at equal and maximum speeds.

Alexander Arroyo and Alan Villegas, from Battle Mountain High School, looked at the ACL recurrence rate in males and females after reconstruction and Brookelyn Kraft and Grace Dease, from Vail Christian High School, looked at high tibial osteotomy.

‘PASSION SHOWING THROUGH’

Turnbull said while the depth of knowledge demonstrated subject to subject was impressive, the passion the students displayed for those subjects is what will carry them the farthest in the field of medical research.

“Our (Steadman Clinic) surgeons themselves are the most passionate people about what they are doing,” he said. “And that’s what the spring semester project has evolved into for these students, a passion project. You’re not going to find success without doing something you’re passionate about.”

Turnbull said in meeting the students who are selected by their respective high schools’ science departments for the program, their intelligence shows through right away. But that’s not always what he’s looking for.

“We want to make sure these students are doing something they want to be doing,” he said. “And when we see the depth of their understanding for these topics — it’s not a surface-level understanding, it’s a very deep, very well-researched understanding — that’s when we see that passion showing through.”


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