Wisconsin students attend first-time summer science camp hosted by WiCell Research Institute

High school seniors and their teachers get hands-on experience learning about the potential of human embryonic stem cells


MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin high school students have gathered for the first-ever summer science camp hosted by the WiCell Research Institute. The intensive science camp offers 18 rural students an opportunity to experience the UW-Madison campus while learning about human embryonic stem cells and how they are used in scientific research.   The four-day program, developed by WiCell in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, is designed to expose rural students to new scientific disciplines not available in their schools and to interest them in pursuing careers in science.  The camp features a combination of hands-on experiences and lectures from WiCell and UW scientists who are leaders in their fields, including nanotechnology, bioengineering, human embryonic stem cells, bioethics and metabolomics. The incoming seniors enrolled in the camp were selected by their teachers based on an essay and a quiz testing their knowledge of stem cells. The best essay will be awarded a cash grant at the conclusion of the program.

“While we have established close connections with the Madison Metropolitan School District and area schools, we believe it is critical to provide new academic and leadership opportunities for rural Wisconsin students,” said Rupa Shevde, a senior scientist and education team leader with WiCell. “By encouraging academic excellence and an interest in science, our goal is to strengthen our relationships with rural schools and establish better awareness of the career possibilities that exist for all Wisconsin students.”
The camp runs through Thursday (July 19) and includes students and their teachers from New Glarus, Argyle, Marshall, Platteville and Stevens Point high schools. (A list of participating students and teachers follows.) On the last day of the camp, July 19, Wisconsin Commerce Secretary Mary Burke will visit the students during lunch and talk to them about the importance of their educational decisions to their own lives, as well as to the future of Wisconsin.

“It is vital that we ignite an interest in science in students across our state,” stated Secretary Burke. “Wisconsin has led the way in the discovery and development of human embryonic stem cell technologies. New high-tech disciplines are fueling our state’s economic growth and we need to ensure we are developing future scientists who will continue the Wisconsin traditions of discovery and economic development.”

Shevde explained that WiCell focused on inviting students in rural areas to the camp since many of these schools are challenged by limited resources to support science education. The camp aims to provide the students and teachers with knowledge of cutting-edge laboratory techniques and scientific advancements. The attendees also will learn about how multiple scientific disciplines work together using a common tool, such as human embryonic stem cells, to make advancements that would not otherwise occur in a single-discipline lab.  Participants will have the opportunity to meet with admissions and recruiting counselors from UW-Madison.
“As scientists, we feel a sense of responsibility for training future scientists,” said Shevde. “Through the summer science camp, we hope to inspire curiosity, impart knowledge and encourage creativity among students. We believe human embryonic stem cells are particularly useful in this regard because they provide us with a powerful model to understand concepts of common ancestry and diversity as well as cell differentiation.”

In addition to Shevde, UW presenters at the camp include: Alta Charo, a law professor and bioethicist; Clive Svendsen, an anatomy and neurology professor; Sean Pelacek, a biomedical engineering professor; Gabriela Cezar, a stem cell researcher focusing on birth defects and cancer; Franco Cerrina, an engineering professor and director of the Center for NanoTechnology; and Tim Kamp, a cardiovascular specialist.

Beyond the lectures and time spent in the lab, participants will have opportunities to socialize with the other aspiring scientists at events including a picnic on the lakeshore and a pizza and movie night. The camp will conclude Thursday evening with a reception and awards ceremony hosted by Carl Gulbrandsen, managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.
Human embryonic stem cells were first isolated on the UW-Madison campus by Dr. James Thomson. Today, Wisconsin researchers are considered leaders in developing an understanding of the early development of these cells and the search for stem cell treatments and cures for diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s and heart disease.
WiCell Research Institute, a subsidiary of WARF, the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, operates the U.S. National Stem Cell Bank and has distributed human embryonic stem cells to more than 400 research groups in 40 states and 24 countries. The National Stem Cell Bank was established in 2005 to support scale-up, characterization and distribution of the human embryonic stem cell lines that can be used in federally funded research. It also provides comprehensive technical support to the scientists using the cells.
For more information on WiCell outreach programs, visit www.wicell.org or send an email to [email protected].