A First for Everything

Life is full of firsts.

Heading back to school this year caused me to realize something pretty frightening: I was embarking upon my last first day of high school. In the past, I had always been scared of firsts: teaching myself a subject, doing a lab, taking biomedical science classes. Walking into my Principles of Biomedical Science class for the first time last year, I was nervous. I had no idea what to expect. I have always been fascinated by the sciences, though, and along with my feelings of apprehension were feelings of excitement and anticipation.

I first became interested in STEM when I was very young. My father was a pre-med student when he was in college and has maintained an unwavering love for biology; as such, he would address any questions I asked him from a scientific perspective. I asked plenty of questions, too – I’ve always had an innate curiosity about the world around me. His answers, filled with long words and abstract concepts, quickly intrigued me. It was from then on that I sought a scientific explanation for any phenomena I thought might warrant one.

The first time I was actually encouraged to use this philosophy was my junior year. That year, I was accepted into the Francis Tuttle Biosciences and Medicine Academy, a rigorous half-day STEM program that encourages higher-level learning and application. It was there that I was introduced to Project Lead The Way.

Easily the most enjoyable parts of my PLTW courses have been the applicability to biomedical careers and the hands-on learning approach. In a traditional science course, labs can be redundant. Oftentimes, a student who understands the text learns nothing from the lab. In contrast, every lesson in PLTW courses is taught via an activity, each activity serves a purpose, and all of the activities connect to an overarching idea.

In one of the units in Principles of Biomedical Science, I was tasked with drawing a chart demonstrating the anatomy and physiology of the heart, building a working model of the heart using unconventional objects, and comparing and contrasting the normal physiologies studied in those lessons with the anomalous physiology of Anna Garcia, the individual who is studied throughout the course.

Building the model, in particular, seemed like a very daunting task to me; there is a reason I choose the biomedical sciences and not engineering! However, to finish a task, one must start it, so my classmates and I went straight to work. Through trial, error, and collaboration, we all finished within the class period. It is learning like this that not only gives students knowledge, but also a variety of ways to apply that knowledge and make it relevant to their lives.

I had the first opportunities to apply my newly gained knowledge second semester. Whether it was in a lab conversing with researchers studying cancer, speaking with pharmaceutical companies about the process of bringing a treatment to the market, or shadowing a cardiologist as he spoke with patients and performed procedures, the knowledge I had gained from my PLTW courses proved invaluable.

I was able to understand the charts detailing the tumor growth seen in lab mice. I was able to understand the numerous trials of different kinds needed in order to ensure the safety and effectiveness of a medical treatment. I was able to understand the anatomy and physiology of the heart, along with the various procedures performed to bring about cardiovascular health. I was able to understand not only the lessons I learned in a classroom setting, but also their application in the real world.

This knowledge has helped me exponentially, and will continue to help me down the road as I press on toward a focus in cell and molecular biology, and ultimately, a career in oncology.

It is for these reasons – the relevance and the applicability of the material ­– that I would tell anybody considering taking PLTW courses to go for it. It is a decision that will open doors for you. Even if you don’t have a strong science background ­– for instance, I did not have any formal science education during middle school – you can excel. I promise. Don’t be afraid of firsts, because many of them will end up taking you to higher places.

Sophia Griffith is a PLTW Biomedical Science student based in Edmond, Oklahoma. She is currently a senior at Edmond Santa Fe High School and a second-year student at the Francis Tuttle Biosciences and Medicine Academy. Some of her achievements include a gold medal in HOSA’s Extemporaneous Writing event, induction into the Oklahoma High School Honor Society, and her selection as a senior class representative for her school’s National Honor Society chapter.