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Innovation and Persistence Lead to Successful Virtual Discovery Day

Published on June 28, 2021 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 2 years 10 months ago


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Editor’s Note: The annual Discovery Day at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is designed to stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine (STEM-M) in students from under-resourced schools. We invited Michelle Marshall, instructional designer in the Office of Academic Training and Outreach Programs (ATOP) at CHOP, to discuss this year’s Discovery Day, which was a success in its virtual setting.

Discovery Day at CHOP is an annual flagship event hosted by ATOP. It began in 2016 as an in-person science-focused workshop, designed to stimulate science curiosity within students attending under-resourced schools and who are under-represented in STEM-M careers. We accomplish this through the exposure to various paths in research, technology, and medicine at CHOP.

Typically held in-person, we invite students and school chaperones to come on campus to identify their own science story. They build personal connections through the introduction of state-of-the-art research; a variety of fun, hands-on activities; and a guided tour of CHOP research facilities and laboratories. This year, Discovery Day went virtual in May due to on-campus restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through innovation, persistence, and support funding from the Diversity Endowment Award granted to Alain Benitez, MD, director of Clinical Research in the Suzi and Scott Lustgarten Center for Gastrointestinal Motility, we were able to successfully create quite a robust virtual environment for our students. For Dr. Benitez, it was an easy decision to partner with ATOP.


“Discovery Day is a fantastic platform for students to learn about science and medicine at a critical point in their early education,” Dr. Benitez said. “It is extremely important to invest in the next generation of diverse scientists and healthcare professionals, and Discovery Day provides a unique opportunity to reach a larger audience from different schools and areas in the city. This could significantly impact the paths these students take in their career and could inspire many of them to choose a career in science or medicine.”

Approximately 30 to 35 students from five high schools participated. We had 10 volunteers host our students, including Wendy Reed Williams, PhD, senior director of ATOP, who facilitated, “Why Science Matters,” telling her story of becoming a scientist.

Drs. Benitez and Richards also described their pathways to science, while acquainting students with the research they conduct. By sharing their stories — from humble beginnings to their success today — our presenters showed students that they can aspire to a career in science and medicine.

After students had opportunities to talk about their own connections to science, they rotated through five rooms to be introduced to research, technology, and medicine from the following hosts: Frank Wartinger, AuD, ABAC, audiologist; Erin Reichenberger, PhD, bioinformatics engineer; Danielle Clerico, RN, BSN, oncology nurse navigator; Alice Gonglewski, vaccine makers outreach coordinator; Michael Stauffer, software developer; Remo Williams, research informatics analyst; and Helen Loeb, PhD, director of the MetaCHOP Research Affinity Group.

These sessions were extremely interactive and amazingly hands-on, despite the virtual platform. Each host posed a question: How might virtual and augmented reality be used to assist and improve healthcare? What are some of the ways our immune system protects us? How do different gene expressions identify cell types? How loud is loud enough? What is blood made of?

“We were delighted to see the students’ enthusiasm and provide a little bit of that magic interactivity through our virtual and augmented reality session,” the virtual and augmented reality team said. “What an honor to still be able to remotely share with the students some exciting technology-based research and development underway, with very real applications throughout CHOP. We are proud to have played a part in inspiring these bright students — our future scientists and technologists — and helping them realize their own potential.”

ATOP is leading the charge to utilize virtual learning to its fullest potential while affording us the ability to reach more students and maintain the interactivity required to keep students engaged. This year’s Discovery Day is one example of how we continue to push the limits.

“ATOP has an amazing team that delivers quality education even during COVID times,” Dr. Benitez said. “The virtual expertise their team brings was a wise investment that made the day flow beautifully.”