Steadman Philippon Research Institute’s science club is growing the next generation of scientists |

Steadman Philippon Research Institute’s science club is growing the next generation of scientists

Travis Turnbull, SPRI deputy director/senior engineer and scientist, introduces Project One to the 2015-2016 Education and Public Outreach Committee Science Club members.
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For more information about the Steadman Philippon Research Institute and their Education and Public Outreach Committee program, contact Megan Bryant at

VAIL — Scientists are a curious group who want to know things such as:

“Can wearing a backpack while skiing or snowboarding change your balance and cause injuries?”

“Can bad running form cause stress fractures and other injuries?”

“Do elite competitive skiers tend to have more back problems than we mere mortals?”

This is not a multiple choice test, but the correct answers are “Yes,” and “All of the above.”

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We know this because local high school scientists did all kinds of research through the Steadman Philippon Research Institute’s Education and Public Outreach Committee. It’s chaired by Senenne Philippon, and inspires elementary, middle and high school students to become more involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

SPRI’s science club members will spend a year doing research, working with mentor scientists and preparing presentations. The kids get certificates and T-shirts, which is good, and cash for college, which is better.

Megan Bryant is SPRI’s EPOC program coordinator. The program is now in its third year, focusing on Eagle County students from fifth-grade through high school.

SPRI is a non-for-profit that does international orthopaedic research. Students get to hang out with scientists and researchers who are doing all that research. It’s like local soccer players hanging out with the Brazilian national team.

Sprouting scientists

Ross Sappenfield teaches chemistry, biology and AP biology at Vail Mountain School.

High school students don’t necessarily see the payoff of the things they’re studying, and this exposes them to that payoff, he said.

“It provides the opportunity for high school to conduct research under the guidance of the best orthopaedic surgeons and fellow, and mentors that you could possibly ask for,” Sappenfield said. “It shows them the potential that science offers, when you can work shoulder to shoulder with biomedical professionals and stem cell engineers. That’s a rare opportunity.”

The three-tiered EPOC program has been developed in partnership with the Eagle County School District, Vail Mountain School and Vail Christian High School.

SPRI’s goal is to foster an interest in science by promoting goal-driven research questions, Bryant said.

Fifth-grade students tour the facilities. SPRI scientists visit students in grades six through eight with lectures and demonstrations that align with what they’re studying.

As many as 80 fifth-graders participate in the tours in a single day, said Megan Bryant, marketing coordinator for the Steadman Clinic.

This year’s group is 10 high school science stars is from all five local high schools. They’ve already met with Steadman Philippon Research Institute mentors and spoke with to Dr. Bill Rodkey, DVM, about the Institutional Review Board.

“We have in Vail one of the most advanced biomedical engineering and surgical education laboratories in the world and our objective is to offer our Eagle County children exposure to a world-class scientific research program and hopefully light the spark.” Bryant said.

The high school students complete two small-scale projects that familiarize them with the full scientific process. In the spring semester, students will complete one large-scale project that uses scientific skill-sets developed from the first semester.

When they’re done, they present that large-scale project to SPRI’s professional researchers, scientists and physicians on April 19.

“For students who are interested in becoming doctors, or want to pursue science as a profession, they all benefit from being part of this program,” Bryant said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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