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CIIID Education Visits Rural Communities to Teach Students about Immunology

CIIID Education Visits Rural Communities to Teach Students about Immunology

On February 8th, the CIIID Education Core participated in Enumclaw’s 6th Annual STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Math) Expo. This event draws approximately 2,000 students and their families from all over the area to explore STEM concepts and careers. The Enumclaw STEM Expo is organized by the Enumclaw Schools Foundation, a coalition of teachers, parents, and administrators that works to connect the local K-12 students to professionals in STEM fields. This year’s Expo theme was “Math, the Universal Language”.

The team from CIIID Education used a hands-on demonstration to teach the students how the immune system works.  The students were given a stuffed virus to try to fight off using decorated ping-pong balls until they found the ball that “recognized” the virus. This scrambling is analogous to what happens in the body when a person first encounters a pathogen. The students then played the game again using a different set of ping-pong balls that represented the body during a secondary infection. Illustrating that the immune system “remembers” what works and generates many more of the effective balls, the students gained an understanding of why they cannot get the same infection twice and how vaccines work.

Colored beads in jars

To connect to the event’s theme of math, CIIID Education volunteers also worked with students to read graphs using colored beads in a jar to provide a tangible aspect of what the graph represented. The CIIID Education team discussed the math skills that are used every day by Life Scientists and discussed an example math problem of how many different molecules the immune system can recognize.

Students discussed careers in science as well as upcoming opportunities with the CIIID Education team.  “I really enjoy bringing the excitement of our work out to these students who may not have had the chance to experience it before!” said one CIIID Education volunteer. Students and parents were highly engaged in the activity and excited to see the CIIID reaching out to their community. A highlight of this year’s Expo was meeting community members that had never met a scientist before, and now have a personal connection to science and the people who do it. 

CIIID Education Core is looking forward to continuing to work with the rural communities around Western Washington. The Education Core participates in several outreach events throughout the year.  Please contact Education Core Director, Amy Stone at for information on participating in future education and outreach events.