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Naval Medical Research Unit-San Antonio hosts Alamo STEM educators visit to Navy Research Lab

By Flisa Stevenson | Naval Medical Research Unit-San Antonio Public Affairs | July 2, 2018

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —

Scientists at the Naval Medical Research Unit-San Antonio at the Brooke Army Medical Center campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston hosted 10 high school chemistry and health professions educators for a laboratory tour and “meet the scientists” career path discussion June 27.

Navy Capt. Thomas C. Herzig, NAMRU-SA commanding officer and research physiologist, said STEM, or science, technology, math, engineering and math, careers are in high demand right now, but educators may not know that Navy Medicine has a diversity of career paths in STEM fields, including research and development.

Educators received a briefing on the science mission and research at NAMRU-SA and then toured the laboratory facilities to learn how science is used to develop novel technologies, therapies and treatment modalities to support warfighter readiness and survival.  

Dr. John Simecek, Director of NAMRU-SA’s Craniofacial and Restorative Medicine Directorate, led the tour, introducing educators to several principal investigators and their research projects to treat combat causality care traumatic injuries and ensure world-wide dental readiness.

Dr. Dorian Olivera, a principal investigator in the Environmental Surveillance Department showed teachers the amalgam separator, a filtration technology tested and evaluate by NAMRU-SA researchers to efficiently, conveniently, and inexpensively capture dental amalgam waste.

Dr. Yoon Hwang, principal investigator in the Maxillofacial Injury and Disease Department talked about the development of a universal antivenom to treat patients who are snake bitten.

Dr. Tony Yuan, researcher in the Biomaterials and Epidemiology Department discussed the novel wound healing dressing he and his team are developing for craniofacial injuries. 

Dr. Luis Martinez, also a researcher in the Biomaterials and Epidemiology Department talked about the research his team is conducting to develop a method for rapid detection of multidrug resistant microorganisms and the design and prototype development of a portable ozone sterilizer. During the tour educators said they had no idea this work was happening in San Antonio.

After the lab tour, educators participated in a discussion with a diverse group of NAMRU-SA scientists to learn about their career path leading to research at NAMRU-SA.

Educators seems surprised and pleased to hear about the broad range of preparation and experiences along the research career path bringing scientists to Navy Medicine. 

Herzig facilitated the career path discussion, involving Lt. Cmdr. Nicholas Hamlin, research dentist and head of NAMRU-SA’s Environmental Surveillance Department, Dr. Nancy Millenbaugh, research chemist and principal investigator in the Maxillofacial Injury and Disease Department, and Dr. Madeline Paredes, immunologist and researcher in NAMRU-SA’s Expeditionary and Trauma Medicine Department. Martinez also participated in the discussion.

“Students pursuing a passion in STEM could discover a career path in Navy Medicine through military or civilian service that offers them the opportunity to do what they love, make a contribution, and have a work-life balance,” Herzig said.

Herzig said this opportunity for the visiting educators have a close inside look at a Navy research lab here in the San Antonio community, to learn about the research conducted at NAMRU-SA, and to meet a diversity of scientists was a unique and informative personal experience they can share with their students.

A group of 16 high school guidance counselors simultaneously visited the Navy Medicine Education, Training and Logistics Command (NMETLC), Navy Medicine Training Support Center (NMTSC) and the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC), all located at JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.

“The afternoon briefing and tour of NAMRU-SA was structured to give educators an opportunity to learn about the vast world of Navy research,” said Gail Hathaway, NMETLC assistant chief of staff and the Navy’s event coordinator. Hathaway said both groups were excited, very impressed and even in awe with what they saw and learned.

The visit was part of the Alamo STEM Workforce Coalition program that invited educators from the 13-county workforce region to participate in an unprecedented, summer externship opportunity for science teachers and high school counselors.

Though the program has been working with area government and industry for seven years, this is the first year of military participation. The coalition’s primary focus is career exploration and preparation for high school students.