Immersion Science Program of Fox Chase Cancer Center holds Immersion Essentials summer camp at Montgomery County Community College

Immersion Science Program of Fox Chase Cancer Center holds Immersion Essentials summer camp at Montgomery County Community College

Group PhotoDuring Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Immersion Science Program (ISP) summer exposure to science camp, Immersion Essentials, held at Montgomery County Community College (MCCC), students conducted experiments and analyzed their observations and findings, while learning how to use a variety of laboratory equipment.

Thirty-two rising 8th, 9th and 10th graders from across eight counties and two states attended two FCCC Immersion Essentials camps. The first program was held during July 11-15 at MCCC’s new Sustainability and Innovation Hub at West Campus in Pottstown followed by the same program at Central Campus in Blue Bell during July 25-29.

Both programs were led by Dara Ruiz-Whalen, education director of the Immersion Science Program at Fox Chase and former adjunct instructor at MCCC. Under her direction, students started the week by researching the ingredients in their favorite snack foods using internet sources. Then through hands-on experiments, they further explored the impact of those ingredients on fruit fly fertility, viability and development.  

“Students learned more than 13 lab techniques throughout the week,” Ruiz-Whalen said. “It’s like a bench-work boot camp where the students learned how to effectively use different 2016FoxChaseCamp-14 1laboratory equipment, including pipettes, micropipettes, microscopes and other equipment.”

Throughout the session, guest speakers visited the classroom and shared their background and career pathway stories that have brought them to where they are now. Each held an active question and answer session, with questions ranging from research to selections of universities or colleges.

Guest speakers included MCCC Assistant Professor of Microbiology James Bretz, PhD; Jennifer Alexander, a PhD candidate from Drexel University and member of Cukierman lab at FCCC; MCCC Grant Project Director and Biomanufacturing Lead for CCCBC/TAACCCT grants John O’Neill, PhD; Eric Lee, PhD, member of O’Reilly lab at FCCC; MCCC Biology Instructor Jennifer Fewster; and Simon Kelow, graduate student of the University of Pennsylvania and member of the Dunbrack lab at FCCC.

At the end of the week, students presented their research and results to their classmates and families. The Immersion Essentials summer program was designed to simulate an undergraduate to graduate school experience, including training, a research experience, data analysis, seminar speakers, and a poster session to present their findings and respond to questions based on their research.

“This introductory program is like an appetizer to research,” Ruiz-Whalen said. “And students start to learn that this is not like CSI on TV, and they will not have the answers within 30 minutes.”  

2016FoxChaseCampBB-12The program is free for students, but they must complete and submit applications. Through a blind National Institutes of Health-style review process, ISP graduates of both the student and teacher programs select students based upon their answers and reasons they desire to participate.  Each application is blind reviewed by three selection committee members and then ranked based on average score. Applications were discussed in order by the panel of 30 ISP graduates.

“The top 32 applicants were offered seats for the program,” said Ruiz Whalen. “We had two and a half times the number of applications for the number of available seats.”

“I enjoyed the program and learned and did a lot of things I had never done before,” said Hannah Lewis, 14, of Souderton, who now wants to take more science classes.

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FCCC’s Immersion Science Program has several layers, Ruiz-Whalen explains. Beyond this new introductory program, the ISP of FCCC offers an 11-week high school student laboratory training program. This comprehensive science research training helps prepare high school students for science and health careers. They learn laboratory techniques and conceptual skills. Each participant is expected to design and complete an independent project that addresses the effects of dietary supplements on normal cells.

The four ISP graduates were selected specifically for this pilot project based on their progress in the 11-week program and their ability to be able to discuss high level scientific concepts with younger students. Many of the ISP graduates sign up to volunteer at speaking engagements and other out-reach programs, which encourages the younger students to take advantage of these opportunities, too.

At West Campus, Stephen Singer, who will be starting at Temple University Honors College this fall, and Sonam Saxena, a rising senior at Episcopal Academy, served as assistants. Both were responsible for leading a lecture on one of our main topics.  Olivia Qiu, a rising senior at Central Bucks High School East, and Matthew Moran, rising senior at Conestoga High School, were the student assistants at Blue Bell.

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Additionally, FCCC extends its program to include an Immersion Science Program for Middle and High School-Level Teachers. In this program, teachers learn how to adapt lab practices to use in classrooms. 

“I completed the teacher program in 2015 with other teachers, learning protocol and pedagogy,” said Katherine Gallen, who teaches at Nazareth Academy High School in Philadelphia and assisted with the Immersion Essentials at MCCC for the week at Pottstown. “I plan to use what I learned with my honors classes this year.”

2016FoxChaseCamp-53Jen Stark, who teaches as Kingsway Regional High School, NJ, assisted with the Immersion Essentials at Blue Bell.  “I plan to use the curriculum and techniques with my honors biology classes and bring it to my honors chemistry classes, too,” she said.

Participants in the program at West Campus included Brendan Kabinoff, Paige Howale, Divya Sammeta, Nisha Shetty, Jiewei Li, Aleena Ghanta, Sophia Tsiobikas, Genevieve Gimmarco, Hannah Lewis, Renee Nardy, Ashlyn Weidenhammer, Haley Modi, Paige Kouh, Destiny Williams, Abigail Calvert and Ellis Stratton.

Participants in the program at Central Campus included Charlotte Zulick, Kimberly Hua, Helen Landau, Eric Sohn, Rebekah Varghese, Kayla Ji, Christa Dominy, Jessica Wang, Katelyn Tu, Graciela Cohen, Griffin Banning, Kavi Gandhi, Annamarie Collins, Miriam Rose, Judy Zhong, and Maya Plimack (not pictured).

For more information about Fox Chase Cancer Center Immersion Science Program, visit


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