Evanston Township High School students attempt to address depression for state STEM competition

Darby Hopper, Reporter

After Evanston residents identified depression as a point of concern in the community, Evanston Township High School students chose to tackle the subject in a state STEM challenge.

A group of 10 students enrolled in the school’s Health Science Rotation class, led by Linnette Hill, coordinator of the health science rotation class at ETHS, will represent the school in this year’s Illinois Science and Technology Institute’s STEM Challenge. The challenge establishes a partnership between Illinois high school students and employees from a company in the industry to allow students to take on scientific research.

ETHS students chose to tackle depression for their project after the results of a city assessment conducted in May revealed that residents felt depression was a leading health concern in the community, Hill said.

For the rest of the spring semester, the class will work with industry mentors to identify solutions relating to medication adherence. Because of the curriculum, Hill said the students will study depression in the context of physiology, anatomy and workplace skills.

“We’ll look at kind of making the connections and roundabouts from a mind, body and spirit viewpoint,” Hill said.

Hill’s class was paired with Takeda Pharmaceuticals, a Japanese company that has its North American headquarters in Deerfield, Illinois. Takeda is working with ETHS and two other high schools throughout the initiative. This is Takeda’s second year participating in the STEM Challenge, said Daaron Dohler (McCormick ‘96, Kellogg ‘03), Takeda’s vice president head of operations, research and development strategy and professional affairs.

“We’re really looking forward to the creativity and the energy that the high school students bring,” Dohler said.

Dohler and the rest of the Takeda mentors met with the ETHS students Tuesday to discuss the project and brainstorm approaches.

“The future begins with you,” said mentor Annette Chavez, Takeda’s associate director of regional medical strategy and planning, to students at the meeting. “We want to know what you’re thinking. Help us tackle this.”

The students, having already started their research on depression, spent time asking questions about industry examples. One student asked about the difference in developing medications in liquid and pill forms. Another wanted to know how doctors figure out why patients stop taking medication.

The STEM Challenge, which began in 2012, involves nearly 30 Illinois high schools and 10 industry partners. This is the first year ETHS is participating in the challenge.

Emily Cooper, Illinois Science and Technology Institute’s director of programs, said schools are required to apply for the challenge but are not typically turned away. The application, she said, is more so that the school and ISTI can evaluate how the program would work if implemented.

In the case of ETHS, though, Cooper said things were different. Cooper, an ETHS alumna, approached the school about the possibility of working with ISTI. Cooper said ETHS has two teams working on separate ISTI challenges: Hill and Takeda’s team, and another team led by engineering teacher Cindy Curtis that is working with Argonne National Laboratory to assess aspects of teen technology use.

At the end of the school year, groups across the state present their projects to their industry partners, some of which will then be selected to present at Merchandise Mart in Chicago.

“The value is as much in the opportunity for them to present as it is in them taking the semester to do their research and get their hands dirty,” Cooper said. “It’s purposefully messy. It’s a real problem, not something we cooked up. There is no right answer.”

Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misstated Daaron Dohler’s undergraduate degree. He holds a degree from McCormick. The Daily regrets the error.

Due to an editing error, Linnette Hill’s role at Evanston Township High School was misstated. She is the coordinator of the health science rotation class at the high school. The Daily regrets the error.

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Twitter: @darby_hopper

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