NCI at Frederick Is a Partner in Local Education, On- and Off-Campus

By Samuel Lopez, staff writer
Photo of two high school students performing an experiment at the Career and Technology Center

Two high school students in the biomedical sciences program perform a scientific experiment at the FCPS Career and Technology Center. (Photo by Joe Meyer, staff illustrator)

You’re probably familiar with NCI at Frederick’s Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program, but did you know that the organization’s involvement in Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) goes much further?

NCI at Frederick and its sponsored contractor, the Frederick National Laboratory (FNL), are taking their mission of training the next generation of biomedical scientists into local schools and communities. Recently, they joined the LYNX (Linking Youth to New eXperiences) program at Frederick High School to teach students about careers in science.

FCPS launched LYNX in 2017 with Frederick High’s incoming ninth-grade class. The program offers a new approach to school by combining flexible schedules, competency-based learning, and partnerships with local businesses to give students more control over their education, connect them with internships earlier, and better prepare them for college and future careers.

In the spring of 2018, FCPS invited Walter Hubert, Ph.D., scientific program director, NCI at Frederick Office of Scientific Operations (OSO), to present a series of career-centered lectures to LYNX ninth-graders who wished to learn more about jobs in science.

“My experience is focused on mentorship, bringing biomedical research and science in general closer to students’ understanding, and explaining that careers in or with science are rewarding and attainable,” Hubert said. He is continuing to assist the program in the 2018–2019 school year.

Other NCI at Frederick and FNL staff contributed by helping FCPS to develop and deploy LYNX. Marsha Nelson-Duncan, education outreach specialist, OSO, and Jim Cherry, former NCI at Frederick student program advisor, OSO, served on the Apprenticeship Program Committee and offered advice about the program’s professional-development objectives. Meanwhile, Rich Pendleton, director of Business Operations, FNL, was chairperson of LYNX Program Partnerships and helped FCPS create its plan for encouraging local businesses to become LYNX partners.

Having collaborated with FCPS, Pendleton says that NCI and FNL’s involvement provides “strong value to students in understanding future career opportunities in science.”

Vocational Partnerships and Internships Provide Actionable Paths and Specific Career Goals

LYNX represents only the latest chapter of NCI and FNL’s relationship with FCPS. Staff from both institutions have long supported the biomedical science, computer science, and nursing programs at Frederick County’s Career and Technology Center, which aims to equip high school students with the professional and technical knowledge that they will need for employment in a vocational field. Students at the center receive specialized training, coaching, and career guidance from their instructors.

Sarah Hooper, manager of Occupational Health Services, serves on the advisory committees for the biomedical science and nursing programs, and she remains an advocate for the programs’ value.

“I feel very strongly about being a part of a solution to help FCPS encompass personalized learning plans to provide choices and flexibility of scheduling and academics to help meet career goals,” she said. “The activities with FCPS allow me to be a steward to my community as well as my employer.”

Similarly, Nelson-Duncan and Hubert are members of the biomedical science advisory committee. Both also attend the center’s open house each year to educate potential students about scientific opportunities available through the center and its partnership with NCI at Frederick.

Students have reaped the benefits of that partnership: some in the biomedical science program have become Werner H. Kirsten interns, won awards from science fairs and competitions, and later returned to the National Institutes of Health as professional scientists.

However, the students aren’t the only ones to benefit. According to Nelson-Duncan, those who become Werner H. Kirsten interns come to NCI and FNL already possessing knowledge and experience that help their mentors and enrich their internships. NCI at Frederick created the Fall Lecture Series to help foster that pre-knowledge by providing potential interns from FCPS and other local school systems with an opportunity to learn from actual Werner H. Kirsten mentors about the work conducted at the facility.

A Great Relationship Thanks to Many, with Room for Many More

Employees at NCI and FNL have joined in other efforts to support FCPS, as well. Hubert recently became a federal liaison to the Advisory Council of the Career and Technology Education division, which he hopes will further strengthen communication about NCI’s educational needs and opportunities. Hooper also sits on the council and is currently helping to improve career-education programs and opportunities.

Pendleton has served on the seven-person FCPS Ethics Panel for eight years and was formerly its chairperson. The panel advises FCPS on ethical matters and investigates allegations of corruption and conflicts of interest to ensure the school system’s integrity, which ultimately protects the students.

Since 2000, dozens of NCI and FNL employees have visited local elementary schools to teach entertaining, hands-on science lessons through NCI at Frederick’s Elementary Outreach Program. According to Nelson-Duncan, NCI at Frederick collaborates with FCPS to develop the lessons so that they complement the normal curriculum. NCI at Frederick is currently seeking to expand the program to local middle schools.

“We have a great relationship with FCPS based on years and years of work done by mentors and staff,” Nelson-Duncan said. “We are very lucky to have such dedicated people who wholeheartedly embrace this mission.”

She added that there are many opportunities available to employees who wish to become involved. While it may not be possible to join an FCPS committee, NCI and FNL staff can make a difference by becoming mentors or participating in other programs.

“There are so many options that I can promise you will find one that fits you perfectly. If you want to be a volunteer in any capacity please contact me,” she said.

Local elementary schoolers excitedly watch their projects during an Elementary Outreach Program activity. (Photo by Richard Frederickson, staff photographer)Gary Krauss, senior subcontracts administrator, Contracts and Acquisitions Directorate, works with a student during a “crime scene investigation” Elementary Outreach Program activity. (Photo by Richard Frederickson, staff photographer)