Emily Gunderson, of Nicholson, was one of 17 high school teachers taking part in the 31st annual High School Summer Math-Science-Technology Institute.

The event was conducted in a virtual format for the first time.

Gunderson is a human anatomy, biology and biotechnology teacher at East Jackson Comprehensive High School in Commerce.

Gunderson and the other teachers joined 39 high school students to spend two weeks fully engaged in virtual learning experiences and hands-on research in math, science, engineering and technology (STEM). Participants in the educational event, held July 5-17, were selected from across nine Appalachian states.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and ORAU hosted the professional learning experience. Since 2000, the program has provided this opportunity to a total of 759 students and 316 teachers.

Teachers and students participated in research projects led by ORNL scientists and mentors. The teachers focused on chemical sciences, plant growth and cytogenetic biodosimetry. Students investigated 3D printing, robotics systems, spatial analysis, climate science, and physics modeling. Students and teachers spent each day in a virtual setting working with their mentors on their projects and also took part in virtual evening activities. The virtual setting was able to give students and teachers a meaningful research experience.

“For 30 years, Appalachian students and teachers have been coming together with some of our country’s top researchers to engage in a rewarding and innovative learning experience at Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Tim Thomas. “That innovative approach is allowing this program to continue this year, as instructors and participants alike have risen to the occasion to take part in a virtual program, a commendable result in a difficult circumstance.”

“Even in a virtual setting, many exciting opportunities open up for participants in the High School Summer Math-Science-Technology Institute and Middle School Summer Science Academy. Often, participants develop a new interest in STEM subjects and then continue to pursue STEM careers. Teachers gain a renewed passion for promoting STEM subjects with knowledge of emerging sciences and technologies,” said Chris Nelson who manages the program for ORAU.

During this year’s educational sessions, participants listened to current researchers and took part in virtual tours and a Scratch coding activity.


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