Summer Institute Workshop Series

Eash institute focuses on a specific topic.  Included in the institute are field trips, lab experiments and time to collaborate with other teachers.  This opportunity is open to Walla Walla Valley teachers.

The aim of the Summer Institutes is to create an experience for area teachers that allows them access to faculty specialists and increase subject knowledge while also encouraging collaboration between colleagues and Whitman faculty.  We are currently in the planning stages for the 2014 Summer Institute.  More information will be available here as we develop the plan. 

Below you will see a summary of the past HHMI-sponsored Workshop and Summer Institute series for area middle and high school teachers.  For more information, contact Heidi Chapin, Science Outreach Coordinator, at

2011-2012 Workshops:

October 22, 2011  A Tale of Evolutionary Pressure:  What squirrels, birds and pine cones can teach us about changes in local populations.

Dr. Tim Parker, Assistant Professor of Biology, led teachers in an review of the mechanisms of evolution in populations through examples in local ecology.  The middle school teachers in attendance explored new research indicating the swift nature of changes in lodgepole pine cones due to pressure by crossbills, squirrels and fire behavior. 

March 24, 2012  Luminous Applications of Light and Lenses

This workshop was a collaboration between Dr. Mark Beck (physics), Dr. Kirsten Nicolaysen (geology), Dr. Ginger Withers and Dr. Chris Wallace (Biology), Nancy Forsthoefel (Biology) and Michelle Shafer (BBMB Lab Tech).  Fourteen teachers spent the morning reviewing topics related to optics and light and were able to use the new Scanning Electron Microscope and Confocal Scope.  Teachers also had the opportunity to learn more about classroom microscopy set-up options and took home digital hand-held scopes for use in their classrooms.

April 11, 2012  Thinking "Big" and "Small"

Professor Moira Gresham, Assistant Professor of Physics, led an evening workshop discussing what we know (and don't know) about our universe.  The evening started with the "big" (cosmology) and ended with the "small" (particle physics).  There was time for teachers to ask questions that are often asked by their students about black holes, dark matter and the nature of the universe.  A link to the website Moira developed with resources from this workshop is at:

Summer Institute June 11-15, 2012

Led by Dr. Jim Russo (BBMB), Nancy Forsthoefel (Biology), Dr. Dan Vernon (Biology), and Dr. Heidi Dobson (Biology)

This year's summer institute was titled "Our Green World:  The Biology of Producers".

2010-2011 Workshops:

October 16, 2010  Neurobiology: Ahead of the Textbooks

The 13 area teachers in attendance had an opportunity to learn more about the exciting and ever-changing field of neurobiology!  Whitman's neurobiology duo, Ginger Withers and Chris Wallace, began the morning with an introduction to brain plasticity and learning and continued the discussion with new research about how the brain works at the cellular level.

Teachers moved to the neuro lab to explore these topics further through the dissection of sheep brains and microscopic views of brain cells cultured in the lab.  Some teachers took sheep brains back to their classrooms for examination, and all teachers will have access to a series of slides showing brain cells, classroom kits to make "bead neurons" and magnets with brain cell images.

January 29, 2011-  The Science of Food

Thirteen teachers attended a morning with Professor Mark Juhasz, assistant professor of chemistry, to learn more about the science behind what we eat.  Topics included the molecular structure of the building blocks of food, the science behind food preservation, and the future of food, such as nutrigenomics and genetically modified food.

Teachers then explored these ideas through activities such as removing the iron from breakfast cereal, burning and measuring the calories in various foods and even making ice cream using liquid nitrogen.  Materials were then available for teachers to complete these same activities in their classrooms.

April, 30 2011  "Fantastic Fluids"

Professor Doug Juers, Associate Professor of BBMB

June 13-17, 2011 "Environmental Success Stories"

Summer Institute with Professors Nick Bader (Geology), Kendra Golden (Biology) and Frank Dunnivant (Chemistry)


2009-2010 Workshop Summaries:

November 21, 2009:  Emerging Viruses

The morning workshop focused on both the effect that emerging viruses can have on human populations as well as the diversity of viruses in our world, both in size, shape and organisms targeted. Several activities for student use were introduced, including an exercise in epidemiology and kits for modeling an icosohedral virus.  

Eleven middle school science teachers from the community left with a better understanding of viruses as well as ideas on how to introduce this information into their curriculum and the materials needed to do so.  The morning was led by Professor Jim Russo, associate professor of BBMB and chemistry, and Michelle Shafer, BBMB lab imaging coordinator. 

January 23, 2010:  The Chemistry of Water

Water surrounds us and is a part of our daily life, but what makes it so special?  Associate professor of chemistry Frank Dunnivantl provided a lively overview of several of the unique properties of water from a molecular perspective as well as describe some of the large-scale environmental implications of these properties.

Attendees also had the opportunity to complete lab activities exploring the properties of water that are available for use in their classrooms.  If you would like to borrow one of the water kits, complete with materials for ten different activities, contact Mary Burt at

Water Stations Summary

April 10, 2010:  Green Energy:  Old Ideas, New Technology

Kurt Hoffman, associate professor of physics, introduced inquiry based lab activities designed to explore energy concepts to ten area teachers.  The morning workshop introduced the physics concepts behind green energy and energy conservation while also leaving time to learn more about emerging "green technology". 

Summer Institute: June 14-18, 2010

Catastrophic Events in Earth and Space Science

This year's Summer Institute, the first of three sponsored by HHMI, was held at Whitman College from June 14-18 and focused on the Washington State Learning Standards for Earth science, particularly the catastrophic events that have shaped the Earth's crust.  Professors leading the week included Andrea Dobson, associate professor of astronomy and general studies; Kirsten Nicolaysen, assistant professor of geology; and Pat Spencer, professor of geology.  The week also focused on the idea of "inquiry" as a key component of the scientific process.